US President Barack Obama’s met with NASA administrator Charlie Bolden on Wednesday at the White House. What happened? Not much, as far as anyone can tell. The meeting was short, and no real details have emerged of what might have been discussed or decided. “The two spoke about the Administrator’s work at NASA and they also discussed the Augustine Committee’s analysis,” a White House spokesman told Florida Today. “The President confirmed his commitment to human space exploration, and the goal of ensuring that the nation is on a sustainable path to achieving our aspirations in space.”
The Hunstville Times reported that the two also discussed options for how the country might improve its future human spaceflight activities.
So, no announcement on what “path” NASA will take as a result of the Augustine Commission, or if the Constellation program is staying or going.
While earlier this week, there was hope that Wednesday’s meeting might result in an announcement of NASA’s future, now there are hints that perhaps such an announcement might be part of the State of the Union Address in January, or perhaps a statement regarding the President’s decisions on NASA won’t come until sometime in February.
The U.S. Senate approved a budget of $18.7 billion that the President needs to make a decision on. But The Orlando Sentinel reported that also on Wednesday, Bolden told lawmakers and Congressional staff that the White House was now favoring a $1 billion top line increase to NASA’s budget in 2011. This would be far better than the 5 percent cut that all agencies, including NASA, were asked by the White House to prepare, but difficult to secure given the current deficit-cutting mindset in Congress.
Space Politics also reported on that on Wednesday, unfortunately, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she was not a “big fan” of human spaceflight. “I have not been a big fan of manned expeditions to outer space, in terms of safety and cost,” she said. “But people could make the case; technology is always changing.”
Any additional spending for NASA, she said, would have to be evaluated against other programs, and “a judgment will be made as to what it does in terms of job creation.” She added that while human missions to the Moon “would be fine” but appeared to be more skeptical about “personned” missions to Mars.
In a controversial move likely to enflame tensions between Russia, Europe and the US, Poland has agreed (in principal) to host bases for the “Star Wars” US missile shield intended to protect against any future missile attack from rogue nations. Russia totally opposes plans, stating that a European missile system, so close to the Russian border, is akin to the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s where the US and Soviet Union went to the brink of nuclear war…
Any space missile system intended to neutralize the threat of a nuclear attack from rogue states was bound to cause controversy and anger. As predicted, the future development of a European US missile shield has caused very loud opposition from Russian President Vladimir Putin, directly highlighting that such a move would cause another arms race and could create a nuclear standoff between Russia, US and Europe in between.
The Czech Republic is currently drawing up plans for involvement in the US project and now Poland, a country that directly borders Russia, has agreed to more discussions about installing ten interceptor missiles. The missile shield plans are in a direct response to the ongoing threat from “rogue states”, principally Iran and North Korea, from their nuclear arms development programs the US believes they are still pursuing, but understandably, Russia is suspicious that the US is attempting to gain strategic strength in Eastern Europe. Mr Putin has hinted strongly that although Russia is not planning to begin wholesale targeting of Europe, any “new targets” in the future would be connected to the “strategic nuclear potential of the United States… in Europe” (see BBC article “New era of discord for Russia and West” for full information on the new political unrest). Scary.
“We understand that there is a desire for defence modernisation in Poland and particularly for air defence modernisation in Poland. This is something that we support because it will make our ally, Poland, more capable,” – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, supporting the missile defence plan in Poland.
The US missile shield concept depends on European fast response missiles to be launched as soon as the threat of imminent attack is detected from aggressors in the Middle East and beyond. By detecting possible nuclear missiles clearing cloud cover and entering space, radar bases within the EU can track and then guide conventional missiles from the shield network to intercept. Tests of such a system have so far had a mix of success and failure, but with improvement of the “Star Wars” technology (a name first coined in 1983 after announcement by US President Ronald Reagan for the commencement of the “Strategic Defence Initiative”) and rocket engineering, rates of successful interception are bound to increase.