Friday, January 09, 2004

Pie in the Sky

I have only four words to say to President Bush about his space initiative:

“Show me the money!”

If Bush comes through and funds his new, visionary space program, I’ll believe he’s serious about it. But this is an election year; and if memory serves, his father also had a new vision that encompassed an expanded space program. We never saw it. So, until I see the dollars coming, I consider this an election year tactic and another attempt to imitate and get approval from George, Sr.

Even if the funding does come, I do not believe we need to spend it imitating Apollo. Instead, we need to build a sustainable, maintainable space capability that launches to the moon…and elsewhere…from low earth orbit. We can use and expand our current space infrastructure to build an Earth-Moon system that supports long-term colonization of the Moon and gives us a stair-step to Mars or anywhere else we’d like to go.

Indeed, this is not what the press is reporting the plan is. Instead, it seems that Bush is asking for NASA to simply launch a series of manned explorations of the moon and Mars and to degrade or abandon other projects to keep costs inline. Such an approach could actually destroy manned spaceflight and impact space science rather than enhance them, especially since NASA programs are always subject to the politics of the times. Putting NASA on the ground for any length of time always runs a rather huge risk of staying there. Further, without true long-term vision or goals, this new initiative could turn out to generate a series of expensive “one-shot” programs that turn off the American public to long-term space exploration. If we imitate Apollo, we will also suffer from the malaise that struck after it. As they say, those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat them. We can’t afford that.

I’m all for pressing ahead, going back to the Moon, and pressing with manned exploration of Mars. But to do so without it being a part of a larger plan, something that will really establish a human community in space, seems like pie in the sky.

I’d like to believe we have the imagination, passion, and the will to do it right.

Frabkly, I doubt it.