Dr. Michael Griffin
Professor of aerospace engineering
The University of Alabama in Huntsville
Newswise — A few presidents have been very supportive of the U.S. space program, and numerous others have been more or less neutral. But only once previously has a U.S. President recommended to the Congress that this nation take a backward step in space. On that occasion, President Nixon cancelled the Apollo program, a decision which in the long light of hindsight I believe will come to be regarded as one of the most significant, yet strategically bankrupt, decisions in human history.
But today, if the rumors we are hearing are true, then we are seeing a second occasion on which a U.S. President has chosen to recommend that the nation abandon its leadership on the space frontier. And, if such a thing is possible, this decision is even worse.
Today we have in orbit a $75 billion dollar International Space Station, a product of the treasure and effort of fifteen nations, and the president is recommending that we hold its future utility and, indeed, its very existence hostage to fortune, hostage to the hope that presently non-existent commercial spaceflight capability can be brought into being in a timely way, following the retirement of the Space Shuttle.
President Nixon's decision to cancel the Apollo program at least left us with the Space Shuttle. President Obama's decision, if it is indeed to be as is rumored today, leaves NASA and the nation with no program, no plan, and no commitment to any human spaceflight program beyond that of today -- the last few flights of the Space Shuttle to complete the International Space Station.