With the recent chest thumping by President Barack Obama over the #NASA #Space program, especially the Journey to Mars, the Smithsonian Magazine provides a much-needed reality check. Most if not all of space successes of the past few years have their origins in the presidency of George W. Bush.
Various space probes the president touted as successes, such as Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, New Horizons, and the Kepler Space Telescope began their operations during the second Bush presidency. #Obama, who tried to cut funding for planetary science, was merely the passive beneficiary of these projects.
The Journey to Mars, which Obama is counting on to rescue his threadbare legacy, is really the bastard child of the Bush-era Constellation program. Obama initially tried to kill space exploration in America by studying it to death. After congress and much of the aerospace community revolted, Obama was forced to tout Mars as a new goal, leaving out a return to the moon as part of his program. The Journey to Mars is woefully underfunded and lacks direction, however.
Some analysts who should know better tout space commercialization as an Obama success. But here too, the roots reside in President George W. Bush’s Commercial Orbital Transportation System program that started the shift from the space shuttle to private spacecraft. To be sure, Obama doubled down on the Bush policy with the Commercial Crew program, but by and large, he has been a passive observer to the flowering of commercial space during the later part of his administration. He does deserve some credit for not trying to stop commercial space with policies that have so damaged the private sector on Earth.
It will fall to the next president to build on the successes of Bush-era initiative. New plans will include more encouragement of commercial space through private-public partnerships and deregulation, plugging the 20 year space exploration gap by reviving a return to the moon, and more planetary science spending, especially regarding the exploration of the outer planets ocean moons such as Europa, Titan, and Enceladus are all initiative that should be considered.
Future historians will not look kindly on President Obama’s space legacy. His cancellation of Constellation and his attempt to end space exploration will be seen as a blunder pursued for ideological reasons. The future was devised by President Bush and, hopefully, expanded on by the next president.