Remember when President Obama admitted that the whole Bush-era "We're totally going to Mars and NASA is going to take us there!" plan was a bit, well, pie in the sky? Quite sensibly, Obama suggested that rather than continuing to fund a large and expensive government program that has yielded little for the last two decades, we should give private companies a shot at figuring out ways to get Americans off the planet for trips to the International Space Station and other appropriate off-worldly occasions.
But Congress was wary of letting space jobs leave their districts, and the Senate wound up offering a compromise plan incorporating elements of Obama's plan, while preserving constituent-friendly legacy programs, including various components of the defunct shuttle program.
The House version of the bill, which may be up for a vote as soon as this week, goes even farther to preserve the dysfunctional status quo. It would slash the cash available to private firms from the Obama-recommended figure for development of a vehicle to take American crews into orbit from $6 billion to a mere $250 million. It restores the inefficient and duplicative Ares I rocket program from Bush's Constellation program, and cuts other incentives for development of private commercial alternative vehicles to the bone.
So who is standing in the way to the push to wrest the space sector from the hands of government bureaucrats and put it in the hands of entrepreneurs? The Christian Science Monitor sums the situation up nicely:
The debate essentially pits so-called "new space" advocates and entrepreneurs against some long-established aerospace interests. Ironically, the situation finds some key Republican lawmakers supporting a (relatively) large government-only approach to human spaceflight instead of supporting a budding and increasingly competent private-sector approach, as the Democratic president has proposed.