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Comment: Is Obama boxing clever on NASA?

As a former Marine Corps general and Space Shuttle commander, NASA administrator Charles Bolden is well-equipped to take fire. That's good, because he needed all the grace under pressure he could muster last week when senators tore into him and his boss, Barack Obama, for killing off US human spaceflight.

That Senate NASA hearing was just the start of a Congressional revolt against a presidential fiscal year 2011 budget request that would hand Space Station transport to the private sector while NASA develops technologies to enable manned exploration beyond Earth orbit.

But the Obama plan represents a massive change in the space programme's industrial structure and as such threatens tens of thousands of space programme jobs in key Congressional districts. However rational it might be in these budget-constrained times, a plan like that is a non-starter in today's Washington.

Faced with a global economic meltdown, Obama could hardly be seen to back the over-budget George Bush Moon vision. In a year when mid-term elections threaten to derail his presidency, Obama needs to avoid accusations of irresponsible spending.

So the conspiracy theory about Obama's plan is that he took an axe to the Moon, fully expecting an apoplectic reaction on Capitol Hill, where Congress can now decide how much taxpayers should stump up for space exploration. The man, it seems, is no fool.

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