If the Obama administration has its way there will be no Constellation program with the Orion crew capsule, Ares 1 launcher, the large Ares 5 rocket and the Altair lunar lander. For a long time the United States has dominated the low-earth orbit. As of 2010 the United States will have nothing to put humans into space. The future will, in this scenario, be in the private sector, no bad idea in itself, but it will take time to develop fully. And the future proposed landing on Mars will be decades away.

American space industry will need a whole new propulsion system for rockets to take crews to Mars. The attempt to substitute Mars for the Moon is a political trick: instead of planning for a possible trip to the Moon for perhaps mining, a sophisticated alternative is offered that is in the distant future.

Compared with the Apollo program of the Cold War a similar budget in 2011 for NASA would be 150 billion US dollars. Now the Constellation program is abandoned for the lack of a few billion dollars. Instead Russia, India, China and South Korea will be prepared to take over and the United States is expected to rely on Russia for sending astronauts into space.

The author of a recent book on American-Russian cooperation in space (Selling Peace), Jeffrey Manber, recently stated to Fox News:

We’re at a very embarrassing point. Space policy of the last several decades has been a failure. We’ll be dependent on Russia for the next 5 to 7 years to fly to and from the International Space Station. And we got here because we stayed too long with the space shuttle program.

Manber has also stated to Fox News that he thinks China will likely land on the moon before any other country, for exploration reasons and as a symbolic act. That country, he said, has 200,000 engineers in its space program and long-term goals for space.

The Russians are the leaders in low-Earth-orbit space today. They may also have the best transportation infrastructure. Russia might well also plan a Mars mission to arrive before the United States can catch up.

One can only hope that a future GOP administration in Washington D.C. will revive the American space effort from 2012 and onwards. The first effort of that new administration should be to speedily return to American space flights. A goal should be to establish lunar colonies and mine for minerals on the Moon. Mining should naturally be a free enterprise effort. This could be done in cooperation with other space faring nations but the initiative should be American.

There are signs that starting in 2011 there will be more American private efforts in space. It’s unclear from recent statements whether President Obama is entirely in favor of privatizing space exploration — a capitalistic approach that would not match up with other liberal policies. However, he has stated that a visit to an asteroid could provide better scientific findings.

A new American Moon mission only makes sense if it is concentrated on exploiting abundant resources of for instance helium-3 (which can be used for nuclear fuel research and is rare on earth) or real colonization.

There is still time for the present American administration to change its mind. There is also much opposition to proposed program cuts. If all goes well the proposed administration cuts concerning NASA will be stopped on the way.

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