Recently, I read two arguments that Obama has “in fact, pulled us almost entirely out of the manned space effort.” And that for “what he has spent on do-gooder social garbage, we could walk again on the moon”.
I think both opinions are wrong.
To the first, remember that Obama inherited a Program of Record (PoR) that would, at the funding levels authorized before he entered office, have retired the space Shuttle in 2010, ISS in 2015, and then spent billions of dollars to develop the government owned and operated Ares I launcher that essentially duplicated the payload capacity of the existing Delta IV.
The Augustine Commission estimated that the PoR would allow NASA astronauts to return to low earth orbit (LEO) around 2018-2019 in a NASA capsule atop a NASA launcher. In the interim, U.S. crewed access to LEO would depend entirely on the Russian Soyuz launcher and spacecraft.
In contrast, Obama’s NASA proposed to have the government purchase astronaut seats to orbit in privately owned spacecraft atop commercial launchers, much as NASA launches unmanned spacecraft today. The Augustine Commission estimated that this might provide U.S. access to LEO one or two years before the PoR.
As to the second argument:
Government funding doesn’t work that way.
Yes, it’s technically true that if your least favorite government program costs $5 billion a year, canceling it would make those funds available for your most favorite program.
However, Congress probably doesn’t share your preferences.
Suppose that Congress has a sudden spasm of civic rectitude, and discovers that they can spend $5 billion less a year, on programs that you don’t approve of.
How much of those savings will flow to increased funding for NASA?
Not much, I suspect.