In the Washington Times today, Robert Zubrin, author of The Case for Mars: The Plan To Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must, sounds a scientific alarm: The Obama administration plans to massively cut funding for NASA’s planetary exploration program. Zubrin writes that Obama’s 2013 budget would permit the continuation of a couple of projects—the MAVEN orbiter and the Mars Science Curiosity Lab—but would otherwise leave planetary exploration without much of a budget. The space astronomy program, too, faces deep cuts. This is “an offense against science and civilization,” Zubrin writes; slashing the budgets of the planetary exploration and space astronomy programs “portends the destruction of the entire American space program.” Without those two divisions of NASA, the agency will be weakened, vulnerable to complete elimination.
Zubrin vigorously disputes the idea that such cuts are necessary given the government’s financial straits. NASA, he says, “helps the economy through scientific discoveries, technological innovation and the inspiration of youth to pursue careers in engineering.”
Zubrin has elsewhere spoken in favor of private space entrepreneurship, saying in July, “NASA's astronauts have gone nowhere new since 1972, but these four decades of wasteful stagnation need not continue. If President Obama were to act decisively and embrace [private ventures], we could have our first team of human explorers on the Red Planet by 2016.” But his Washington Times piece makes clear that he still sees a role for NASA even if private enterprise enters space exploration.
Just last year, Obama told a space conference, “The bottom line is, nobody is more committed to manned spaceflight, to human exploration of space than I am.” He set ambitious space exploration goals, including a manned visit to Mars by the mid-2030s.
Read more in the Washington Times.