800px-Maximum_payload2

Comparison of the Space Shuttle and Apollo moon mission Saturn 5 rockets with two versions of the Ares space lifter planned for the Constellation lunar base project.

Get ready for moon rage from the lunar right in America.

The White House press management machine has spent the weekend leaking to reporters  the end of the “back to the moon” Constellation project, part of the Budget package Obama is about to deliver to Congress.

But the softening-up process for the sensitivities of baffled and hurt middle American pride about the space program is unlikely to deflect howls of populist pain.

Nor ensure an easy acquiescence for the end of immediate US ambitions for a moon base in a Senate no longer under numerical Democrat control.

The stage is set for a major affront to America’s view of its global dominance.

Constellation, a GWB project, was to have astronauts on the moon and preparing the site of a permanent manned lunar base by 2020, coincidentally the same year in which  the space programs of China and India have loosely enunciated ambitions for manned lunar landing missions.

In fact, the sub-text of the White House leaks is that the risks and rewards for the next phase in the American conquest of space, starting with the replacement for the Space Shuttle due to fly its last mission this year, will be passed over to the private sector.

This is also going to stretch the mind of the tea-bagger movement, torn between a fundamental belief in small government but wanting things only big government can deliver.

What Obama is really signalling is cutting off the major public funding of private enterprise-built rockets, which is today’s situation, and in favour of pushing them into private capital, which will own the profits made from commercial and state contracts for  future space lift needs using next generation reusable space craft.

The problem from the populist perspective is that the aerospace giants of the US will in fact be part of global enterprises, rocket builders and space freighter makers that are already going down the same trans-national route as Boeing and Airbus.

America can’t afford to go it alone in space any more. It already relies to a large degree on the Russians to carry its loads to the International Space Station. But India and China don’t have the same constraints, so far. They talk co-operation but pursue essentially monolithic state-controlled space programs.

For an America that, by and large, can’t get its head around Airbuses that can be as much as 50% US made, or Boeings that can be about 40% Asian in content, and still have European engines hanging off the wings, the proposed ceding of the moon to China and India is going to be very hard to swallow.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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