Cleaning up space junk, conducting climate research and forging international celestial harmony are the hallmarks of President Obama's new National Space Policy (PDF), unveiled Monday. Parts of the plan had been expected for months, but NASA-philes were still holding out hope for a grand vision of human exploration.
But there were no Kennedy-esque calls to action, neither for the purpose of scientific exploration nor for national prestige. NASA's exploration role is fairly vague -- sure, there's a call for expanded robotics and human spaceflight programs, but there's no specific location or time frame.
The biggest news is Obama's focus on international cooperation, a departure from his predecessor. Specifically, he wants countries to work together to clean up space junk, which the Pentagon has said is a threat.
The 14-page document also explains how the U.S. will use space to study Earth, and how NASA will cede ground to the private sector, working with commercial firms to develop new modes of space transport.
The space agency will expand its focus on Earth science, specifically climate research. Satellites will be tasked with studying natural and human-caused changes to climate, land and water, and a new fleet of weather satellites will provide better forecasts.
Obama notes that space belongs to all nations -- perhaps an important point given China's ambitious space goals. The document offers little detail about how space cooperation will work, other than to say that with great power comes great responsibility.
"The now- ubiquitous and interconnected nature of space capabilities and the world's growing dependence on them mean that irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all of us," the paper says.
Specifically, Obama wants international cooperation in cleaning up space junk, which the Pentagon has already said presents a threat. The U.S. will share more information with other countries in an effort to prevent satellite collisions, and will fund research into cleaning up existing space debris. That nugget is really the only new detail that sets Obama's space policy apart from his predecessors'
George W. Bush's policy, by contrast, was to remind the world that it better not stop the U.S. from entering into solar-system domination if it so chose.
Obama recasts this in a defensive light, saying the U.S. will deter others from interfering or attacking its interests, and fight back if necessary. Again, details are lacking, but the document comes with a classified counterpart that probably has more meaty stuff.
2012 can't come soon enough!!!! I'd like to see all entitlement programs done away with.... infrastructure and defense is all the federal government should be worried about...
@ a good american
Cea mai mare lucru despre a fi un american este abilitatea de a vorbi atât de liber. De ce încerca să schimbe lumea pentru ură în loc să încercaţi să faceţi mai bine cu un mesaj de pace. dispretul tau pentru americani este nefericit, dar stiu o pasă cu adevărat de ceea ce crezi tu, fie.
well said justin
What does this have to do with the article?
Why do we have to spend money that we already don't have on a cleanup operation like this? Most of that space junk doesn't pose a threat to us down here, as it will burn and break up as it falls through the atmosphere, and anything large enough to make it through probably won't hit land, and if it does, it probably won't hit a populated area. If it were to fall towards inhabited areas, the government could simply shoot it down with either anti-nuclear defense missiles, or those things they use to shoot down defective and spy satellites.
I don't see why Obama is looking to spend money on a largely unimportant cleaning effort when he could spend that money on cleaning things up back on the surface of the planet, such as in the Gulf of Mexico.
The next time I see "Obama" and "space or NASA" in an article, I want it to be about him pushing for martian exploration and colonization. I'd love to sign up for that.
do you not understand the importance of cleaning up space... its not a threat to us down here of course.. but how about the hundreds of satellites in low-earth orbit where more than 50% of the space debris lies? lol You are quite naive to think that obama should not spend money to clean up space.. when obviously its one of the smartest decisions he has proposed... The Government isn't worried about the debris falling into the atmosphere and hitting a populated city (although they are concerned to a certain degree), they are far more concerned with space debris destroying satellites, coming in contact with ISS... i dont see how u can read this article and think that its a dumb to do such a thing.. either you are mentally ill.. or just an idiot lol So if space debris hits an orbiting satellite.. lets say not just one.. but "many" our economic structure could collapse.. no gps.. it would have such a large impact on our military that it would end up costing us more to fix these problems if they were to occur than to "clean" up space now so that these problems to do not occur... word of advice to you... go get an education and some common sense before posting stupid ass comments.
If the space junk shown in the image was to scale it wouldn't look as menacing. We need a spacecraft with high powered lasers powered by nuclear reactors to incinerate the space junk.
Why dose Obama say he wants international cooperation when he cancels huge programs and changes the fundamental course of NASA with out so much as talking to our partners about it first. The ESA budgets missions years and years in advance and sticks to the plans, they had moon related plans in conjunction with us that got all sorts of messed up by one mans hasty decision. I'm all for SpaceX being a buss driver for the ISS but we need a powerful NASA with clear goals to take us to the moon and beyond.
Rebecca Boyle, I'm sorry you have to write about a subject that deserves no more than a bored yawn. I guess into every life a little rain must fall. Next time it'll be someone else's turn...
You did liven it up a bit by injecting George W. Bush into the story. He's always good for a little controversy. Is it possible for Obamaphiles to praise our current President without criticizing George W. Bush? That you have to draw inaccurate straw-man comparisons with the past President to find something to praise in the current one is rather telling about your lack of faith in President Obama. The implication is that his most noteworthy accomplishment is he's not George W. Bush. If I were President Obama, I'd find that rather humiliating.
Here's Bush's statement: "The United States rejects any claims to sovereignty by any nation over outer space or celestial bodies, or any portion thereof, and rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space."
Does that differ from President Obama's stated goals? Bush said that space, the planets and their moons belong to everyone, just like Obama said. Bush said America gets to do work in space, just like everyone else gets to, and with which Obama concurs. So basically there is no "contrast" between Obama's space goals and Bush's. They are virtually the same.
Next time you feel the urge to lambast Bush, take a deep breath and count to 10...unless you want to draw attention to an otherwise bland story. Then it's okay.
@ laurenra7 and Moon born
What does any of that have to do with the actual article itself?
"NASA will cede ground to the private sector"
That is quite the double edged sword. I know that the private sector, and all its competiton, can really get the ball rolling, but with the private sector you get private intrests.
Say one of the big wigs of a future space company has this annoying daughter that demands a giant Hello Kitty in space. He spends massive amounts of money to shut his kid up. BAM! Massive Hello Kitty in space.
I could be scary! *shudders
It would be interesting to know what would happen, if all that debris would be blown from space to earth, like sun eruption or something. It's also most interesting prof of intelligent life on earth, we haven't seen anywhere yet. There must be a reason for that, but we have seen planets with dust rings, so nature can clean it's mess.
We will need the same technology for cleaning, we need for space travel. To do that, we must learn to control our environment and we can handle even the simplest roads.
Planet also belongs to everybody, but look at what have we done. It will all change at it's core, when life in the universe will be discovered, than we will better understand, what we are doing and a lot of thing will have to change, like our understanding of space, meaning of life, property and borders, reasons for wars and separations...
Thinking hurts Matt's brain. Don't ask him any questions.
laurenra7 is one of countless thousands of "pilot-less drones" that patrol cyberspace. Since drones have no autonomous thought, it's useless to ask them questions.
that just made my night hahaha
WTF The Ares 1 rocket was pretty much finished and we scrapped it. And Obama mentioned somewhere else that this was to increase funding to Mars or something like that which I am completely for, but how the heck are we going to do it if we don't have a frikking rocket to get us into space? Strap some thrusters onto the ISS and send it randomly off into space and hope it hits mars?
We spent billions on this rocket, and all we have to show for it is an escape capsule? And Obama wants to create more jobs, but what about all the people at NASA who are going to lose their jobs because of this and the ending of the space shuttle program.
I think we should at least extend the shuttle program until we make something that can get us into space. I see no reason whatsoever to cancel constellation. It was "Behind and underfunded" because nobody would fund it!
Ahh, I love to rant. About the actual article I think cleaning up space junk is important, but there are more important things we could be doing like building a friggin rocket to get us into space.
You fail as a journalist. You lack any objectivity whatsoever. You lack credibility with your readers who, incidentally, come to this site to read about science, not your political fascinations. Spare us your Obamagasms and go back to journalism school.
I am also against removing space junk but not because of the expense. I think space junk should be collected or recovered because it costs a lot of money to get it into space. Don't spend money removing it, spend money collecting it or gathering it together so it can be recycled at some later point in time. Don't ask me what is the best way to do this, but don't burn up material that could be used at some later time.
Try to gather it together so it is less of a threat and there would be less individual objects to watch out for and maybe a few large collections of objects.