Andy Pasztor of the WSJ reports the administration is “leaning towards outsourcing major components of its space program.” This would mean some competition (or even cancellation!) for the planned NASA-sponsored Ares programs which (in six to eight years) will be used to resupply the International Space Station with materials and astronauts. To paraphrase Emil Faber, “Competition is good.”
The Air Force would like the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle to get man-rated. That would allow them to have some of the cost-burden of that program, which was supposed to provide cost savings of at least 25 percent on USAF launches (cue Bob Euker sound-bite: “Just a bit outside”) to other users. Likewise, commercial providers like Orbital Sciences, and SpaceX will be in the mix, too. However, don’t expect the Ares programs to go down without a fight.
Also, while the President “has confirmed his commitment to human space exploration,” the next part of the challenge will be to understand exactly what the President means by ‘human space exploration.’
We are already at the point where human space exploration–currently defined by orbiting the earth in the ISS–fails to satisfy. One manned trip to the Moon may satisfy for a short while, but after that…
“Manned space” needs to provide a vision of space travel that is not completely disconnected with reality. Space tourism may be the start. Perhaps the lessons learned in space tourism and the technologies developed in that aspect of the space economy will be applied to the space domain in general. I think it is space’s best hope.