The Vision

Nov 18, 2008 3:23pm

President Bush and his staff thought they were reinvigorating the American spirit of exploration when they proposed the "Vision for Space Exploration."  They wanted NASA retiring the space shuttles by 2010, returning to the moon by 2020, and eventually sending astronauts to Mars. "The Vision," as some NASA managers labeled it, is far from being realized.  The shuttles are still puttering along; the Orion spacecraft to replace them are falling behind schedule, and as for Mars — well, not in our lifetimes. Now, with Mr. Bush’s successor assembling a staff, the Planetary Society, an advocacy group co-founded by Carl Sagan, suggests a new "Road Map" — skip the lunar base Bush suggested, and go beyond. "Exploration of Mars should be the ultimate goal of human space flight in the foreseeable future," it says.  The moon-base idea "has driven a series of programmatic decisions that may instead lead to multi-decade delays in the expansion of human activity beyond the Earth-Moon system."  Find the full proposal HERE. All well and good (and no saying Barack Obama or any other decision-makers would be much swayed) — except that it provoked a quick, detailed rebuttal from retired astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, the twelfth man to walk on the moon. "I am sorry, but I can no longer support the society in its goals as they seem to have gone back to being more political than rational. I want humankind on Mars more than most, but I, at least, feel obligated to look at this goal rationally." He goes on at some length: "We need generations of engineers to relearn how to operate in deep space at and for long durations on a location that is more accessible than a trajectory to Mars or on Mars itself." He adds, "Returning to the Moon has a far better chance of sustained political support than does a far, far more costly, start from scratch Mars program."  Is he right?  Would any of this be exciting to the American people?  Would it be to you?  Right now there are seven shuttle astronauts, at great expense and some risk, visiting the space station to install…plumbing.

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