In 2008 when President Obama came into office, there were various changes made to U.S. space policy. One was to shift away from returning to the moon which many nations seemed interested in partnering with the United States on. What effect has this had on various space initiatives around the world?
The shift away from the Moon as a focus for the next steps beyond the International Space Station has resulted in a lessening of U.S. international influence in space. The United States is still the world’s leading space power, but potential partners are increasingly making space plans separate from the United States as we have failed to provide practical options for them to cooperate with us in human space exploration. This drift has also spread to robotic Mars exploration with the U.S. dropping plans to cooperate with Europe on the ExoMars effort to return samples from Mars. The U.S. is instead looking to create another rover, similar to the Mars Science Laboratory and Europe is looking to work with Russia instead.
The Obama Administration has also worked towards a focus on privatizing various space missions. Do you feel from a technological and economic standpoint privatized space missions are the future? Could there be a point where for example deep space missions to places like Mars could be done privately and cheaper before say a NASA mission?Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The U.S. has been purchasing launch services from the private sector for many years. The program to deliver cargo to the International Space Station with private launch systems began under the Bush Administration. If private markets develop, driven by non-government demand and supported by private capital, then there is no reason the private sector couldn’t extend farther into space. At present, however, government demand is what drives space exploration and it would be wiser to use a mix of public and private space systems and not rely exclusively on government or commercial sources for U.S. capabilities.
China has made increasing progress in their space program in recent years. Looking out over the next five to ten years, what accomplishments in space do you see China achieving? Is a manned mission to the Moon possible?
China seems to be on track to develop a small space station, comparable to the Russian MIR, in the early 2020s time frame, about the time the International Space Station may be coming to an end. China is developing all the capabilities necessary for them to send humans to the Moon, if they so choose.
As you mentioned in your recent article, the International Space Station (ISS) is under budgetary pressure as issues of debt and spending are a hot political topic in Washington. In what ways is the ISS vital to America’s space interests and more broadly for a larger space agenda globally for nations that utilize ISS?
The ISS has been a major technical success. It has been a diplomatic success in creating close cooperation between Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia. In particular, the ISS is a symbol of a post-Soviet relationship with Russia. It is a subject of great pride to all the partners, It is uncertain, however, whether the ISS will prove to be a scientific success, which is why the partners are rightly emphasizing utilization over the next decade. The technical and management experiences from the ISS are vital to planning for international cooperation in space exploration beyond the space station. Failure of the ISS, technically or politically, would be major blow to international cooperation and the prospects for U.S. human space flight beyond low Earth orbit.