Funding long-term space projects

If American politics continues as it is, this ship will be Commercial or Chinese.

Article:  Scientists See Red on NASA Cuts of Mars Missions

When I started this blog, one of my first entries was about Pres. Obama's radical changes in space policy, scrapping Bush's heavy-lift program, which was to replace the Shuttle and eventually get us to the moon.  (See original article here.)  Later Obama revived the program, making it more about going to Mars, while leaving commercial space for the near-Earth stuff.  He announced his intention to get us to Mars by the 2030s--a grandiose promise, considering he won't be President after another one to five years.

Sadly, he didn't even keep his vector for the four years he had guaranteed in office.

Two years ago, President Barack Obama stood in Kennedy Space Center and said it was more of a priority than going to the moon and wanted astronauts there by the mid-2030s.

But robotic Mars missions slated for 2016 and 2018 were cut from the president's new budget proposal, even though NASA has spent $64 million on early designs with the European Space Agency for the two missions. The most ambitious Mars flight yet and one the National Academy of Sciences endorsed as the No. 1 solar system priority — a plan to grab Martian rocks and soil and bring them back to Earth — is on indefinite hold.

This exemplifies what I think is the biggest problem with our government space program:  Continuity. Presidents scrap old programs--especially those of the other party's President--and too often don't even keep their own promises.

I hate to say it, but it's events like these that make me wonder if the Chinese won't indeed beat us in the Space Race.  They, at least can make a plan and stick to it.

So what do we do?  My first thought is give NASA a long-term budget for certain programs:  This much a year, every year for x years.  They have to stay in that budget, but at least they won't get it cut.  "Soft" programs (like NASA's education, groundskeeping, etc.) could be on an annual basis, but a project like the Mars missions could just assume X dollars a year until the project ends.  Or (since expenses might vary) a planned budget each year, but approved along with the project and with a guarantee of no changes. 

This means they'd have to plan pretty well, and it could be a problem if they run into trouble, but let's face it:  Most commercial industries, when they dedicate to a project, see it through unless it proves to be a failure.  The Mars missions are not failures, yet they are being canceled because of Congressional and Presidential pressure in an election year.

In the meantime, SpaceX has said they hope to get a man on Mars in 10-20 years.  Have to say, my money is on them.

What do you think?  Is there any other way we can protect long-term space projects from the flightiness of American politics?

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