As Carl Sagan would say; there are billions and billions and billions of stars. Throughout human history, men and women and children have looked to the sky with amazement and curiosity. I know I was one of them… and still am.

My first experience with modern space exploration came when I was about 7 years old. That is when I watched The Right Stuff. Much of the movie was above my head, but it gave me a firm grasp on our nation’s path toward space, both historically and within the context of modern space exploration.

About a year later, I was home sick from school watching the Price is Right, as was customary for me in 3rd grade, when Bob Barker was interrupted by breaking news: the Challenger Space Shuttle had blown up shortly after launch. I suppose I was somewhat devastated to hear the news as I was always mesmerized by space and space exploration. I would later go on to read the books and watch the television series The Cosmos by Carl Sagan at the age of 12 and later graduate to the more palatable writings of Stephen Hawking and Buckminster Fuller.

My curiosity of space and space exploration has never waned. However, I have had grave reservations about the course of our nation’s space ambitions for many years as the outdated Shuttle program has continued to prove to be little more than an exercise in futility as the cost of the bloated NASA budget, funded by taxpayer money, has produced little tangible successes and many, many failures resulting in the deaths of the Astronauts aboard the Challenger and later, Columbia.

Many who care to follow space have known for decades that the course of the United States’ space program must take a drastic change in course if we are to ever continue manned exploration throughout our solar system and our galaxy. But what is now occurring is an abomination of public trust for those who look at space travel as having the potential to unite all nations and all peoples under a common quest for perpetuating our knowledge of the Universe.

I fully support the wholesale dismantling of NASA and building it back up into a program utilizing 21st century technology rather than ‘prehistoric’ technologies from the 70s and 80s — a space program that Americans can once again be proud of. But Obama’s recent actions will assure that space will be the frontier of private corporations rather than national and global efforts that benefit all of the human race.

Obama at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010

Obama made his concern for the course of NASA and their bloated budget quite clear on April 15th when he addressed a crowd at the Kennedy Space Center and laid out a blue print for the future of the program (courtesy of NASA.gov)

So let me start by being extremely clear: I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future. (Applause.) Because broadening our capabilities in space will continue to serve our society in ways that we can scarcely imagine. Because exploration will once more inspire wonder in a new generation — sparking passions and launching careers. And because, ultimately, if we fail to press forward in the pursuit of discovery, we are ceding our future and we are ceding that essential element of the American character.

Despite Obama’s promise of a commitment to the future of NASA, he would go on to state his objectives for increased privatization:

And in order to reach the space station, we will work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable. (Applause.) Now, I recognize that some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. I disagree. The truth is, NASA has always relied on private industry to help design and build the vehicles that carry astronauts to space, from the Mercury capsule that carried John Glenn into orbit nearly 50 years ago, to the space shuttle Discovery currently orbiting overhead. By buying the services of space transportation — rather than the vehicles themselves — we can continue to ensure rigorous safety standards are met. But we will also accelerate the pace of innovations as companies — from young startups to established leaders — compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere.

This actually seems be a fairly intelligent approach to the future of space exploration. Private Industry has indeed been an integral part of NASA by providing materials and technological support in a variety of areas, yet it has never been responsible for actually building spacecraft intended to launch men and women into orbit as Obama is now calling for.

Obama is placing much faith in the launch of Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket, designed and built by a private space corporation. The success of Falcon 9 will be heralded as a victory for those who seek the complete privatization of space exploration into the future — all supported by federal subsidies of course.

President Obama’s 2011 budget for NASA aligns closely with the recommendations of the Augustine Panel. The budget calls for the the use of commercial spacecraft and rockets to carry astronauts into space instead of relying on the behind schedule, cost-overrun Ares program. Another Augustine Panel carryover is the decision to bypass the moon and instead gun for near-Earth asteroids and onward to Mars. The Wall Street Journal says that the efforts to initialize the private sector — including startup firms — for carrying astronauts into space will be a “multi-year, multi-billion-dollar initiative”.

Private firms are expected to receive roughly $200 million during the first phase of the program. The total amount doled out within the first five years could balloon to more than $3.5 billion according to sources familiar with the details of the budget. The funds for the private ventures would be pulled from NASA’s yearly $18.7 billion budget. Industry stalwarts like Boeing and Lockheed Martin are expected to benefit from this new initiative, but smaller firms like Space Exploration Technologies would also be vying for NASA dollars. (courtesy of Daily Tech)

While on the surface, Obama’s plans for the privatization of space travel might seem fiscally responsible compared to throwing more money at NASA, but it must be understood that these private space corporations will be heavily subsidized by us taxpayers. What do we, as a country and as a global community, actually gain from private space exploration? Absolutely nothing.

If the trend toward the privatization of space continues — as Bush Lite..err..I mean Obama, has assured it will — space exploration will no longer be a source of national pride, but yet another corporate enterprise that will entrench itself into our democracy; making large profits while being subsidized by our tax dollars.

Astronauts will be farmed through reality shows rather than our prestigious service academies. Planets and space itself will be the property of the corporation that buys the naming rights rather than the sense of wonder and idealism that space represents for all citizens of the planet. This is perhaps an extreme outcome, yet is wholly possible and likely as the reality of corporatism has shown that anything, even space, can be bought and exploited of the price is right.

Astronaut Image compiled from: Astronaut; Corporate Flag