A story published in Space.com suggests that NASA's plans to build a deep space station at the Earth/moon Lagrange 2 point may be more hope than reality. The Obama administration seems actually cold to the idea.
Deep space station not approved by Obama administration
Space.com, quoting an unnamed administration official, contradicted recent media reports that a deep space station, designed to be a gateway for expeditions to the asteroids, Mars, and perhaps the lunar surface, had not been approved by the Obama administration. The unnamed official hinted that the stories in the media were part of a gambit by NASA to garner support for the project from the Congress. In any case, no funding for the deep space station has been requested for the current or the upcoming fiscal year.
Media speculation rampant on NASA deep space station
The Orlando Sentinel reported that NASA had proposed the deep space station as part of its exploration strategy in a September story. The idea was that the station would serve as a practice run for deep space missions to the asteroids and Mars as well as a base for the robotic exploration of the moon. The station would be located at the Earth/moon Lagrange Point 2, where the gravities of the Earth and moon tend to cancel one another out about 38,000 miles beyond the lunar far side. The facility would be deployed by the heavy lift Space Launch Vehicle and would be visited by crews of astronauts riding the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Eventually, the facility might become a refueling stop, perhaps with rocket fuel refined by lunar water, for spacecraft headed deeper into the Solar System.
Space policy confusion at the White House?
President Obama famously cancelled President George W. Bush's Constellation program and instead, in an April 2010 speech, pointed NASA's exploration efforts toward an Earth-approaching asteroid and, eventually, Mars. Congress, in the 2010 NASA Authorization Bill, not only added the moon back on the list of destinations, but mandated the development of the heavy lift Space Launch System and the Orion has two elements of that space exploration program. The idea of a deep space station at the Earth/moon L2 would seem to help address the conflicting priorities of the White House and the Congress, providing some flexibility and experience in the relative short term for NASA's space exploration program. If the White House is resisting the funding of the deep space station, the question arises whether it is actually serious about its own space exploration program.
Fiscal cliff may derail NASA space exploration.
If budget talks fail and the federal government goes over the fiscal cliff with the preprogrammed tax increases and budget cuts, NASA's dreams for space exploration would almost certainly suffer. Bill Nye, the CEO of the Planetary Society, warned about possible cuts to research and development, including NASA. Planetary Society member John Livingston, writing for the Patriot Ledger, agrees, suggesting that NASA space exploration is especially vulnerable to fiscal cliff brinksmanship. The confusion and uncertainty on the part of the White House concerning space policy may therefore be part of a wider problem.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
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