Something must have spooked congress in the days leading up to December 18th, 2015. On the 18th they passed an omnibus spending bill that both increased The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s overall budget by $1.3 billion and aggressively allocated $55 million of that budget to an accelerated mission, the development of a ‘deep space habitation module’ as it’s being put. For regular American citizens this could come as a surprise as NASA is used to yearly budget cuts and dissolving programs. The budget move raised concerns that Russia, China and other globally competing space programs were beginning to make strides to overtake the United States in the race to occupy Mars.
The deep space habitation module program was given a two year window for completion which will be a more than tall task for NASA to achieve. Even more challenging is congress’ 180-day progress report where NASA will have to present it’s developments on this specific project. At NASA this has become a bit of a problem already and the agency has already burned 10-days of their first 180-day term.
But in light of the recent successes of private sector space technology companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, NASA is entering a new space age with a well padded budget and a government supported push for the deepest manned space exploration ever.
Why SpaceX’s Recent Falcon-9 Landing, Blue Origin’s Commercial Rocket Landing And Virgin Galactic’s Stephen Hawking Endorsed Ship Changed The Game
Just a handful of years ago you’d be hard up to find significant news coming out of either NASA or the space technology private sector companies like SpaceX or Virgin Galactic. But as quick as a flash of lightning the industry exploded into one of the most important (yet still subdued) international races ever. The openly progressive Elon Musk’s SpaceX took charge of a space industry that was failing. His company put space travel back on the map and essentially revitalized a critical part of global economic strength, the ability to explore the last frontier.
As soon as Musk’s SpaceX took on NASA to play a crucial role in America’s next step in space travel, other progressive billionaires followed suit. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos funded his own space tech startup, Blue Origin, which now feuds with SpaceX over which company broke ground on a landing rocket first (truth be told Blue Origin did have the first suborbital terrestrial landing but SpaceX had been executing water landings for a good time and their most recent Falcon-9 landing completely outdid Bezos’ Blue Origin’s landing from a month before). Sir Richard Branson’s tragic accident’s last year slowed his company’s development but he was able to snag the endorsement of cosmologist Stephen Hawking when unveiling his newest spacecraft.
And for the record SpaceX is the undisputed number one in American space tech innovation but their success has been the driver of multiple other space travel companies and the reiteration of the importance of space exploration.
On December 21st when SpaceX landed the first rocket to carry a payload, send it into orbit, turn around and land back where it started, congress’ increased budget for NASA seemed like a pretty good idea. It may sound like science fiction to most but space exploration and the utilization of space technology could turn out to be a keystone to America’s future. Unfortunately the technology that comes with rocketing further into space than ever isn’t here yet and congress doesn’t have much patience.
‘Build A Deep Space Habitation Module…And Do It Quick’ Congress Says, But Nasa Is Scratching Their Heads On How To Get It Done
The original (soft) deadline for the deep space habitation module prototype was slotted for the early 2020’s when NASA would test the technology as part lunar mission in order to prepare for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030’s. But this omnibus spending bill from congress and a significantly increased 2016 budget seems to suggest otherwise. Mark Whittington, a NASA correspondent for The Examiner said:
“What Congress is thinking by speeding up the development of a habitation module is unclear. NASA had planned to use the module as part of a cislunar space station that would test technologies necessary for the Journey to Mars in the 2020s”
With a pocket full of cash, NASA will have to proceed carefully but incredibly quickly in developing a technology originally assumed to be 6-10 years away. Now the government agency will have to employ their contracts with private sector companies like Lockheed, Boeing, Bigelow Aerospace and Orbital ATK with an utmost respect for time. However the agency’s overall $1.3 billion increase in funding should assist them in accelerating efforts.
Russia Dissolves Federal Space Agency In Favor Of State-Ran Corporation, China Makes Strides To Catch Up
It’s odd. Just over a week after American congress voted in favor of drastically improving NASA’s financial well being and publicly endorsed the importance of a manned mission to Mars as soon as possible, Vladimir Putin chose to deconstruct Russia’s Federal Space Agency in favor of a state-ran corporation. After it became evident that corruption was poisoning Russia’s space program ($1.8 billion of unknown costs) Putin decided that a state-ran corporation would give Russia its best shot at remaining a contender in both deep space exploration and commercial space flight.
Chris Velzaco of Engadget.com said:
“Its structure as a corporation, though, could mean the revived agency is better equipped to compete in the realm of commercial spaceflight — a notion Putin is clearly fond of. After all, the rise of ambitious US competitors like SpaceX could put a damper on Russia’s surprisingly lucrative spaceflight business”
The new shape of the Roscosmos could be vital in Russia’s construction of their very own spaceport – The Roscosmodrome – and lessen the nation’s need for neighboring Kazakhstan’s spaceport. The proposed site of the Russian cosmodrome (just miles from the Chinese border) would more than likely influence China to accelerate their space exploration efforts even more than they already are.
Even though China didn’t have a human in space until 2003 when they sent an astronaut into orbit using a Russian Soyuz rocket, the nation’s space program (China National Space Administration) has quickly become a front runner for both innovation and superiority.
So with NASA being given a generous raise this year, it will be up to them to maintain their technological advancement over our economic competitors Russia and China and should the United States be successful in completing a prototype by 2018 they could reinvent themselves as the leaders in a new era of space exploration. Just make sure you don’t blink NASA, because Russia, China and the world are right behind you.
Last But Not Least Obama’s Focus On The Commercial Space Sector Helped Build A Balanced Approach
Elon Musk has expressed his appreciation of Obama’s space policies, in reference to the 2010 launch of SpaceX’s first ever Falcon-9 spacecraft he had this to say:
“‘I think this bodes very well for the Obama plan… It really helps vindicate the approach he’s taking.’”
Essentially Obama’s push to feed commercial space companies led to a creation of a new division of the private sector, not to mention it opened up a space for NASA to focus it’s efforts and funds elsewhere other than routine spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS). A mission to Mars seems like the benefactor of that. The success of SpaceX and other private sector space tech companies will cheapen the cost of cargo supply flights and give NASA a chance to send astronauts to the ISS on a more frequently accessible basis. A unison effort between NASA and America’s commercial space industry will accelerate the evolution of space travel technology significantly thanks in part to Obama’s policies.