Space Status Update

Okay, time again for a quick review of what people are saying about the space program!

First up, from June Scobee Rodgers, once married to Richard Scobee, Commander of the ill-fated STS-51-L mission–better known as the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.

In this article for The Arizona Republic, Mrs. Rodgers (and I hope I am addressing her correctly here) discusses the post-Challenger desire for inspiring the youth of the nation to pursue careers and interests in science and technology, specifically in space, through the Challenger Learning Center. Her point is that, even in the wake of the worst disaster to befall the American space program–in many contexts–the United States decided that it was still a spacefaring nation, that we still had the Right Stuff. Mrs. Rodgers says:

“Whatever path is chosen, we must continue as a spacefaring nation. We must do this, not just because of the great things we will discover and accomplish but, more importantly, because space exploration inspires our young people who will invent and inhabit that future, invent those new technologies, save our planet and live on other worlds.”

I must say, it is refreshing to see that, in this time of “should we do this” or “should we do that”, that someone has come along and said, essentially, “Just as long as we remember what’s really important.”

So thank you, Mrs. Rodgers (again, I hope I’m addressing you correctly), for pointing out what we all needed to remember.

So you know what the Obama Administration’s view on the future of space exploration is, and I’m sure you’ve heard what Michael Griffin thinks, but just in case you haven’t, he’s gone on the record now of calling the new plan–or at least, aspects of it–“drivel”:

“Griffin says most of the new policy proposals came out of the Augustine Commission, which he feels got some things right but blew many others. He’s particularly bemused by the notion that the current policy is unexecutable, which he says is a self-fulfilling prophecy if you cut the budget. And he mocked the notion of relying on commercial space flight capability that doesn’t exist, and which if it did exist would leave the U.S. beholden to contractors with little to no competition.”

I tend to agree with Dr. Griffin. Famously, he once said:

“But the goal isn’t just scientific exploration . . . it’s also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time. . . . In the long run a single-planet species will not survive.”

There’s a lot more in that article for me to like, and (I think) for most Americans and/or people of reason to like. That article is a good summary of my own philosophy regarding space, and I think it makes a lot of sense.

Now that we’ve seen where Dr. Griffin wants us to go, let’s move on to where we actually seem to be going. This article is from NBC News correspondent Jay Barbree, a man who has the honor of having covered every manned American space mission.

Mr. Barbree gives a succinct summary of the space policy debate up to this point, and he seems to think Congress is coming to a consensus about it.

He outlines the compromise into three points:

1) “The plan calls for a series of steppingstones β€” the so-called flexible path β€” beginning with a six-day return to the vicinity of the moon. The voyage around the moon would be followed by a month-long trip to one of the Earth-sun Lagrange points, known as L1.”

2) “When NASA is comfortable with these near-Earth flights, in the 2025 time frame, the next step will be to undertake weeks-long missions to asteroids.”

3) “Then, astronauts would set out on a one- to two-year journey to fly by or land on one of Mars’ moons. The time required for the trip would be determined by the capabilities of advanced rocket engines.”

I’ve made my opinions of some of these points pretty clear, I think, but it seems like this is what we’re getting, because along with those goals comes money for more Ares I tests, and a heavy lift vehicle which I bet will look a lot like this (a good thing, if you ask me).

But whatever I think of the consensus’ points, Mr. Barbree has been with the space program for the last half-century; I have no doubt he knows what he’s talking about.

Which, I mean to say, is good, because it implies that he’s right, and there is a compromise coming down the line. We need a compromise–even if it’s not quite in the direction Dr. Griffin and I had hoped for–because Mrs. Rodgers is right. There’s something of supreme importance going on here, and if the plan works–if space exploration gets heavy interest and funding–then it doesn’t matter that NASA isn’t going back to the Moon, because the private industry can do it instead. We will truly be a spacefaring nation, then.

As for the handoffish international coalition to the Moon that some are discussing, well, the moment another country puts a human being on the Moon is the moment NASA’s budget increases, and then NASA will be going everywhere and doing everything, and we will then be well and truly inseparable from space.

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