Similiarities Abound

In browsing through Wikipedia for information regarding space exploration–as I often do–I came across something I wish I’d seen six years ago: the Final Report of the President’s Commission on Moon, Mars, and Beyond, a Committee–much like the Augustine committee–tasked with coming up with a plan for the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE). If you’re interested, you can find the PDF here.

All I had to do was read the cover letter. Specifically, this paragraph:

“We conclude that fundamental changes must take place in how the nation approaches space explo-
ration and manages the vision for success. This national effort calls for a transformation of NASA,
building a robust international space industry, a discovery-based science agenda, and educational ini-
tiatives to support youth and teachers inspired by the vision.”

Sound familiar? It echoes (or should I say shouts?) what the Obama plan is saying, or at least some of the more salient points:

1) Transformation of NASA

2) International Cooperation

3) STEM/Educational advantages

And more (a few minutes’ read reveals promotion for the private industry–though not really in the same way that Obama wants).

So we have (gasp!) a similarity between the new President and the old one. Not that it’s bad; the similarities talk about things that definitely need to happen.

But what bugs me is that the VSE is, effectively, canceled. Oh, the point of it isn’t, but the practicalities of it are. There are also certainly basic philosophical differences between the two plans. I certainly don’t mean to say that they’re identical.

In any case, this got me thinking about what is probably one of my top three concerns about any plan put forth for exploring space.

1) Will America lead it?

2) Will it be sustainable?

3) Will it allow for real development?

The important one here is #2. This time, I mean political sustainability. If the VSE–which was clearly running down the same sidewalk as the new plan–is canceled, what’s to stop the next President from saying “I don’t like it!” and putting us through this mess again?

Again, I know Constellation is the real item to be canceled, not really the VSE, but one identified the other, and since the destinations and implications are changing as well, well, the VSE might as well be gone.

So after all that I find myself thinking about what Dr. Spudis (who, by the way, was on the aforementioned Commission, along with Neil deGrasse Tyson) said in his article for the National Air and Space Museum’s website:

“In other words, it’s not excitement that we need from our space program, it’s value for the money spent.  Many in the space community (and even many inside the agency itself) parrot the falsehood that lunar return under the VSE was all about repeating Apollo.  In contrast to the trite ‘been there, done that’ formulation of such misdirected thinking, the real purpose of return to the Moon under the VSE was to learn how to create sustainable human presence off the Earth, including learning how to harvest and use its material and energy resources.”

I think I’ve taken that as my explanation for my objection to the uncontested adoption of the Obama plan. It says a lot.

Anyway, short story: I hope that whatever new plan we adopt is sustainable beyond the whims of the next Presidency, and also that we get away from that “misdirected thinking” and put ourselves on a real path.

In fact, to expound a little, let’s talk about #3. Isn’t the Obama plan more of a “reliving the glory days” kind of path? It has always struck me as so, since I don’t think a couple of Mars landings are going to do much more for the average American–or human being–than the Apollo landings did. What’s really going to get the money and imagination flowing is a permanent, civilian-accessible base in space. We need 2001: A Space Odyssey (well, everything between the monkeys and the murderous AI). Not only is it what the public expects, it’s the best way to go. A real, permanent presence in space, with people living and working and making money.

Commuter rockets to the Moon. Hiltons and Howard Johnsons on a space station. Airline companies flying to LEO.

That’s what we need. We can do it all if we just had the money and the will. They’re both there…somewhere.

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One Response to Similiarities Abound

  1. Pingback: New Space Policy–Future or Failure? « The Space Geek

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