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Space cuts short-sighted

In 1969, when American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, he uttered the famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Roughly 40 years later, President Barack Obama has proposed a NASA budget that would end our efforts to get back to the moon, cancel the replacement for the space shuttle, cripple our capabilities in space and hurt our national security.

This "one small budget step" would be a giant leap backward for American leadership in space and security.

For years, we've known the space shuttle would be phased out. The replacement, which has already been through extensive research, development and testing, is the Ares rocket, part of the Constellation program. The Ares, named by Time magazine as the No. 1 invention of 2009, was successfully test-launched less than four months ago. NASA itself called it a "spectacular launch." Everything seemed on-course for America to retain a safe and reliable vehicle for space travel and maintain leadership in space — until Obama released his proposed budget this month.

The Obama budget would cancel the Constellation program, cancel the Ares I rocket for manned space travel, cancel the Ares V rocket for cargo and cancel the Orion manned space capsule. The only apparent replacement for all of this is some nebulous funding for grants to commercialize our space exploration with no tested or proven alternative.

It would be one thing if gutting the space program was an attempt to save money. But it isn't. In fact, the Obama plan does not eliminate wasteful spending. It actually adds an additional $1.5 billion to the NASA budget, but spends it in the wrong places.

The president's proposals for NASA will, however, destroy U.S. leadership in space exploration. Russia and China will control space. Instead of sending 40 or so American astronauts to space each year, we will end up sending four or five. And they will essentially be trying to hitch a ride on a Russian or Chinese rocket.

The Obama plan will also destroy 20,000 private sector jobs, if not more. By my estimation, we stand to lose around 2,000 jobs right here in Utah — a complete contradiction to an administration that say jobs are the priority. And these aren't minimum wage jobs. They are high-skilled jobs in science, math and engineering. This seems hypocritical from an administration that says it wants to encourage kids to take science, math and engineering classes.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, canceling the Constellation program and the Ares rocket will harm U.S. missile defense efforts and our national security. The same kinds of jobs and technology needed to send men to the moon are the same set of skills needed to build defensive missiles. Whether it's lifting man or missiles into space, the skilled work force and solid rocket motors come from the same industrial base. When you cut one, you hurt the other.

Last year, the administration cut our U.S. missile defense system and some jobs were lost. The cancellation of Constellation would essentially wipe out the rest. This would destroy the U.S. industrial base and make us militarily vulnerable to countries like North Korea and Iran.

A report to Congress last year pointed out that delays in the NASA Ares program could have "significant negative impact" on the industrial base for missile production. If delays are "significant" an outright cancellation would be overwhelming. We will lose not just our capabilities for space exploration, but our capability to protect our homeland. Our nation will be less secure.

Maintaining leadership in space and creating jobs is important, but fulfilling our constitutional duty to provide for the common defense is an absolute must.

Rob Bishop is Utah's representative from the 1st District.