Apparently, Barack Obama is thinking of curtailing NASA’s future manned spaceflight activities. Specifically, there has been talk of canceling the Ares 1 rocket and scaling back the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. If true, the news is welcome. There is very little evidence that ongoing manned programs – including the Space Shuttle and International Space Station – are generating useful science or providing other benefits. There is even greater doubt about the usefulness of returning to the moon.
Space exploration is an activity best undertaken by robots. They are cheaper to send up than humans and more capable. Given the very limited value provided by sending live people into space, it is something the United States should discontinue. At the very least, it is something that should be sharply scaled back while the government works to address America’s severe debts and other problems.