What this new budget is doing is shifting NASA away from their traditional role as gatekeepers to the stars and continuing in a fashion that lets everybody pursue their dreams. NASA will continue with an increased budget, while forcibly removing some of the fat such as the Constellation and Ares programs, the epitome of big-project wasteful spending. NASA will return more to research while opening the doors for other companies to start opening up space. That’s right, this budget is probably one of the biggest steps towards a privatized space-sector the US has made in decades.
That’s big. NASA has spent the past 40 years building giant, conservative, spacecraft, engineering perfection out of them. To their credit, they have succeeded beyond belief. Though these numbers are for all space travel (including Russia), as of September 2009, there had been 505 people in space with only 18th deaths. A 4% chance of death to fly into, live in and work in the single most inhospitable place in the universe for a human? I’ll take it. Whenever it is the public funding potentially hazardous work there is huge outcry if an individual dies, so NASA engineers work their hardest to keep everybody involved alive. This is a huge shift from the Age of Exploration and Discovery when sailors set out from Europe and their loved ones basically expected them to die. Can you imagine anyone in America allowing a program where people are basically expected to die?
Thankfully, all of this conservatism and locked-door approach has been a great breeding ground for the new age this budget proposes. Commercial space companies have troves of information about how to keep people alive in space before they even send people up! Except unlike NASA, these companies will be able to take this technology, mass produce it, make it affordable (relatively), while still keeping people alive (hopefully). A truly new age of space travel is hopefully beginning.