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President Obama’s new budget does not provide funding for NASA’s Constellation moon rocket program, effectively killing that project. Anti-Obama pundits have painted this as a huge blow to the U.S. space program, and cancellation of the Bush-initiated “Return to the Moon”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Constellation project was a mistake from the start. It was too expensive and actually a step backward technologically. Obama has set NASA on a new path toward privatizing spacecraft construction: NASA will purchase its spacecraft from private companies. This is a good first step toward the full privatization of space exploration – a necessary step toward a long-term sustainable presence in space.

Currently NASA purchases spacecraft components piecemeal from contractors and fits them together itself. The next obvious step is to purchase the whole craft. This will cut costs and improve quality, and focus NASA’s resources on astronaut training and science and exploration projects. NASA will provide the specifications for the hardware it needs and contract that out to the private sector. This is good for NASA, for the taxpayer, and for the economy.

But let’s go back to the Obama budget. According to this Associated Press story the budget actually increases NASA funding by $6 billion:

The budget would spend more than $2 billion to monitor climate change on the Earth with orbiting satellites and to observe the Earth in other ways; invest $4.9 billion in a five-year program that would aim to send robots to the moon to study the possibility of human colonies and fund the development of space-related technology more generally; spend $3.2 billion on exploration of the solar system; and allocate $420 million over five years for a mission to the Sun.

It also extends the U.S. commitment to the International Space Station beyond 2016.

That hardly sounds like the “death” of the U.S. Space program.