COMMENTARY | Like many people with a fondness for space exploration, I am been appalled at the treatment the Obama administration has afforded NASA. The damage the White House proposes to do to the space agency in its FY 2013 budget is a case in point
The Washington Post has noted that Obama plans to decimate planetary exploration, slashing large sums out of it and canceling long term planetary missions, such as the Mars sample return and the Europa orbiter. Meanwhile, according to NASA Spaceflight, the ire of Congress is being raised over the short-changing of human space exploration in the budget proposal.
It a perhaps unrelated item, The Hill notes that the Obama administration proposes to spend $47 billion to build what it is pleased to call "high-speed rail," a solution in search of a problem, since people can already travel by car, bus, or plane from one city to the other. This presents an opportunity.
I propose a little predatory budgeting that would take money for what is essentially a 19th century mode of transportation and use part of it to fund the future. Five percent of Obama's toy train set funding, about $2.35 billion, would bring NASA up to a little more than $20 billion, enough to keep both robotic and human exploration on track, with perhaps a little more on the side to finance X prizes, a lunar lander, and a few other things. As a bonus, Congress will not be tempted to raid the commercial crew and Earth science accounts - Obama priorities - to pay for exploration shortfalls.
10 percent of Obama's railroad would be sufficient to get people back on the moon by the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, July 20, 2019. Spend the money creatively and one might also be able to land a small habitat for the astronauts to live in long term. Newt Gingrich's moon base might be a reality.
As for the rest of the life-sized train set money, by all means use it to cover more of the deficit. It is a win/win/win scenario. We avoid paying hundreds of billions of a high-speed boondoggle to nowhere. We get Americans back on the moon by the end of the decade. And we cover more of the deficit than Obama proposes to do. The proposal would seem to be a no-brainer.