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Staying In The Race
CNBC.com | July 08, 2011 | 08:23 AM EDT

The end of NASA’s space shuttle program will limit U.S. manned flight in the short term but is unlikely to threaten the country's long-term competitiveness in the space sector.

Washington is actively promoting the privatization of lower orbital space flight as it redirects billions of dollars on next generation projects to explore deep, or outer, space, while counting on a continuation of international cooperation on big-budget, R&D projects as the International Space Station , or ISS.

"NASA feels strongly that it is time to do things differently and get out of owning and operating low-Earth orbit transportation and hand that off to the private sector," says NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz. "As we move forward, we will continue the United States' leadership in space and derive all the benefits that flow from it. Tomorrow's space program is taking shape right now."

President Obama is an outspoken booster of the space program and supports a 2011 NASA budget close to its 2010 level; he has challenged NASA to duplicate past glory and prowess by exploring deep space and reaching Mars by the 2030s.

Current U.S. space spending, including the proposed $19 billion NASA budget, dwarfs that of other countries. At the same time, however, existing and potential rivals such as Russia, China, India and the U.K. are ratcheting up spending as America's budget flattens.

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