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on the other hand, using "micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission" would probably produce spectabulous Isp, but it would need years (decades? this is government after all..) of research before an actual construction proposal would arise. Far too distant to be a major selling point of any budget proposal.
Had space travel been in a coma, you'd have a point. But it hasn't. Instead we've actually had what all the space fans claim to have wanted for years - a routine workaday program.
You are calling 4 manned trips a year to LEO a "workaday" program? Where it takes 12 years to get a space station completed? The shuttle directly limited spaceflight development by being dangerous, expensive and overly complex - leading to the 4 trip per year limit. Keeping up our presence in LEO going is important, absolutely, but spending 1 billion per launch to do so is not.
Obama's program is something of a bust - a modest amount of money, a booster with no mission (I smell pork), and a capsule that might be adapted to have a mission at some date in the misty future. No clear goals, no timetables, no roadmaps nothing but warm fuzzy rhetoric.
Commercial companies are developing the tech for manned LEO, so we really shouldn't be designing our own. To do better missions further out, we need a heavy lifter - exactly what Obama is proposing. By requiring the design to be finalized by 2015, it gives a deadline so that it is not just "pork barrel funding" - but still enough time to include some new tech like on orbit refueling (could greatly expand our working distance from earth). It has timeframes, goals, and roadmaps - it just isn't based on old, already-used tech, so he can't say exactly what the booster will be like. I think it is significantly better than the Constellation program - less expensive, same goals, better tech, more likely to actually happen.