The Orlando Sentinel (which clearly has a dog in this fight) is reporting that Obama is backing off of plans to cut NASA’s budget. The article is somewhat brief on details, but it seems clear that Obama is now willing to continue shuttle flights until 2010 and to continue the Constellation program (which he was originally going to freeze for 5 years to save money for education).
I’m all for more money for education, but one just can’t stop and restart projects that require major intellectual infrastructure. When highly trained aeronautical engineers are laid off, they’re not necessarily around 5 years later. Re-starting from scratch 5 years later is not cost effective, and may not even be possible after all the relevant expertise has dispersed. In the speech, Obama also acknowledged the mismatch between plans for Constellation and its funding level, and recognized that the disparity has led NASA to cannibalize everything else.
So, it sounds like he’s climbing the NASA learning curve, which can only be seen as good news. He may still ask for changes in NASA’s priorities, but he’s clearly becoming educated on what’s actually feasible. I’m not arguing that NASA necessarily should continue Constellation (since many space-related scientists would love NASA to tilt more towards becoming the NSF in space), but that in previous incarnations of Obama’s space policy, he was clearly talking as someone who didn’t have a detailed understanding of how NASA’s ~17 billion dollar enterprise operates. Now, he does.