Thursday, January 28, 2010

Going to the Moon without you

If Congress agrees, President Obama’s reported decision to terminate NASA’s Constellation program will be disappointing. The central issue for us remains the Moon itself, things made possible by an extended American presence there, and the fulfillment of an unfinished, fifty-year-old compelling vision of the future for our nation and our species. It would result in a miserable and unsettling second disintegration of concentrated human capital devoted to pure science and cutting edge engineering.

Since 1972 the Lunar Pioneers have quietly advocated achieving and holding a permanent presence on the Moon. We believe this is at least as strategically necessary to the exploration and eventual human settlement off the Earth as is an acknowledged need for ready access to Earth orbit. Having finally experienced a long-awaited Renaissance of interest in the Moon, inspired by the Columbia tragedy, we’re not likely to be dissuaded from this logical course by transitory politics, even if Apollo originated in that same swamp.

Whatever politics you prefer the proposal to eliminate Constellation floated by the White House cuts against the grain of NASA’s reason-for-being, even if that federal agency’s self-continuity long ago gained the upper hand over its original purpose. More peculiarly to us, however, is the way this proposal seems to run counter to the politics of the President and his broad base of supporters.

Despite the administration’s reputation for expediency it’s simply naïve to dismiss a clear dedication to a certain worldview. President Obama has shown himself to be thoroughly committed to government by default as the first solution to every problem. Privatization is an atypical approach for this White House, and an unfocused proposal to spend $6 billion annually on commercial orbital transportation seems like a radical departure from the President’s core beliefs.

Lunar Pioneer is highly invested in open skies and commercial space access, to low Earth orbit and beyond, so we’re a little suspicious of the $6 billion proposal. In the end, more to pattern, it would not surprise us if at the end of the receiving line were names like Boeing instead of Bigelow. Unaddressed, as yet, are ITAR, the FAA, or how to handle the suspicions of nations less dedicated to “Free Markets.”

The president and his base of supporters live and breathe in the atmosphere of an ever-expanding federal workforce. “Privatization” for them is toxic anathema, dismissed as a joke among the most ardent supporters or simply dismissed contemptuously by State and Federal Union organizers, for example, genuinely threatened by the concept, if genuine.

After a year of over-examination of NASA’s reason-for-being, why should supporters of commercial space transportation like us be less than skeptical?

No surprise there. We still hold a grudge against President Nixon for scrubbing the last three planned Apollo lunar landings, Apollo 18, 19 and 20; each of them “J” missions devoted to science. That might seem a bit extreme to some, but the enduring legacy of America’s original retreat from the Moon is still with all of us.

1 comment:

jmpf said...

yes, it is sad that, that program will not carry on -- I guess it is up to private corporations and individuals to goto space themselves, please keep up the good work on this blog -- it is excellent! I'd like to link this from the http://diyship.com forums as a good resource for lunar news.