I agree, until we find oil on the moon, businesses and legislators don't see much reason to go back.
Besides the space varient of the Law of the Sea, does not allow anyone to claim ownership of celestrial bodies.
Face it, the Saturn V was to demonstrate that we could loft the nastest and biggest H bomb against the Soviets. Going to the moon was just a PR perk.
Don't get me wrong, I am gung ho on space, I've just come to think that unmanned missions give us more bang for the buck and don't cause the ceasation of missions that a manned failure always gives us.
I think we need to push tele-remote operations via the Internet so everyone can get a thrill out of being in space instead of a handful of astronauts.
Right now the average citizen can name only Tang and Teflon as being discoveries of space flight (and they'd be wrong about Teflon).
Thanks for this refreshing take on what's happening with NASA. I think the point some commenters made about manned vs unmanned missions, and the attention the former garner vs the latter, is a good one. That said, the barriers to manned space exploration are high: huge cost and protecting people from cosmic radiation. I get the impression that there's very little awareness of these barriers, how big they really are, and the enormous effort it's taking in the attempt to overcome them.
@Dave Palmer, I grant you that there is a crisis of awareness of the public. Heck, of the people that are aware that NASA still exists, NASA had to convince some of those people that the moon landings actually happened?! True story and very sad! The public's ignorance ought to be combatted, yes indeed. I see those changes starting already and that's good to see. Further, I can't deny that negativity doesn't yield much except call attention to things that could be done better.
While I look forward to the Pluto mission and support continued journeys to the Martian surface, I (like many in the public) am drawn to compare what is done today (armada of probes to the planets) with what was done in the past (manned exploration of the lunar surface in only 11 years from agency inception). It is difficult to inspire the youth when as tax-paying adults we can't bring ourselves to be very excited about what NASA is doing. Like it or not, people do draw comparisons to NASA's golden past and now.
If we're spending roughly the same dollars to achieve these two things, this doesn't make NASA look good at all. The biggest mistake would be for anyone to think that this means the agency shouldn't exist. This pervasive "all or nothing" thinking or nine years back "Moon versus Mars" thinking is the most damaging. Discontent is not always a declaration of wastefulness, but rather "is that all?"
I believe many in the public are asking more from NASA. It's time the agency listened and shifted its priorities to things that do seem to matter more to the public. NASA has good things going, but if there is a sense that the public isn't enthusiastic, NASA ought to listen and change its focus.
I think there is no doubt that manned space programs garner much more attention than unmanned programs even though the technology may be as fascinating. It's also very difficult to remain optimistic relative to future NASA programs when we have a Congress that can't even develop a budget much less balance one. I do not think private space exploration will be that successful due to the shear cost of programs. I do agree with one comment, when China, India, etc brings back an American flag left by an Apollo mission we will sit up and take notice. I suspect by then it just might be too late.
@RogueMoon: The public, in general, is unaware of what NASA is doing; like I mentioned, some people (who should know better!) think NASA doesn't even exist anymore. But those of us who are aware are doing a lousy job of combatting this ignorance.
Whining about the lack of moon missions is counterproductive. It just reinforces the idea that NASA is irrelevant. It doesn't help move us forward. It certainly doesn't make future moon missions any more likely.
Dismissing the incredibly successful Curiousity rover as "clever short videos of a remote probe" or the International Space Station as "blurry videos from an orbiting campsite" isn't very inspiring, is it? Negativity breeds negativity. Is this the message we want to send to our kids?
@Rob: The NASA budget, while about half of its 1966 peak, is higher today (in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars) than at any point from 1971 - 1990. And in 1971, moon launches were still taking place. That's not to say that NASA couldn't use additional resources, but the characterization of NASA as a shell of its former self is incorrect. As I mentioned in the article, NASA is arguably engaged in more missions today than at any other time.
hey Rob, how about this speculative scenario for motivation of American's returning to space :)
The Chinese build a heavy-lift vehicle, go to the moon's surface, send a pair of taikonauts to an Apollo campsite, and bring back one of the American flags as "a gift" to the American people. A nice, cute, pat on the head gesture, eh?
After that, do you think the public, Congress and NASA might get the hint that they've been resting on their laurels a touch too long? :)
Nearly everyone I talk to is excited about space. The disappointment they express is simply reading what's happened in space since 1981. Notice how NASA proudly shows a timeline of accomplishments from the early years (1957-1975), but says virtually nothing about the 1990's? or even the last decade? It's because you can't count cancelled programs in a historical timeline that's supposed to inspire pride. I'm plenty sure it is not the public losing faith for no reason.
We, as the people, should spread excitement about space exploration, yes. But that excitement needs to turn to the Congress and ask for real dollars for real programs with short deadlines. Allow, accept and expect failures, but don't stop building. The public isn't responsible for NASA's chronic attention deficit disorder.
I think most would agree that NASA should exist. I think most rightfully conclude that NASA is a shell of its former self. Politicians are not being led by the public to believe that NASA was only a Cold War publicity stunt. That's completely backwards. It was Congress's predecessors who created this reality when they pulled funding away in layers and then by large swathes. When NASA was building large vehicles, putting people on the moon, the public had something to be excited about. Now the best NASA can muster is clever short videos of a remote probe and show us blurry video of the inside of their orbiting campsite.
After (NASA Admin.) Griffin was dismissed, that was it. Despite the public's common lament, NASA doesn't do anything substantial with any expectations to accomplish anything in the near-term. Start-stop-linger-fade.
I think the space program comes down to budgets. NASA doesn;t get much these days. Without competition for space advancements, we're not going to see much. And there is no competition to drive budgets these days.
@naperlou: The Curiosity rover took about seven years from announcement to launch. That doesn't seem too long for a project of its magnitude. It would have launched two years sooner if not for the actuator problems that I described in another article, and the fact that the Earth-Mars launch window only opens up once every 26 months. New Horizons was launched in under five years, far shorter than the nine years it will take to reach Pluto.
The ISS took a long time mainly for political reasons, which, if you worked on it in the '80s, you are doubtlessly aware of. Even so, after the US, Russian, and European programs were merged in 1993, it only took seven years for the station to be built and the first crew to arrive. That's not so bad for an unprecedented, multi-billion-dollar, international project. It takes longer than that to build some things on Earth.
But my point is not that there's nothing to criticize in the space program or how NASA has managed certain projects. My point is that we need to do a better job communicating the excitement of space exploration. Optimism is contagious; pessimism is, too. Choose wisely!
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