Dear Congress: If You’re Serious About NASA Going to Mars That Requires a Serious Budget

Posted by Michael Pinto on Feb 25, 2010 in Science |

Charles Broden speaking to Congress

Not so long ago congress was picking apart NASA chief Charles Bolden for not having a solid plan for space exploration: This is putting the blame in the wrong place which belongs with congress. Frankly a trip to Mars or even just the Moon requires a huge financial investment. Unlike the 60s NASA is highly invested in an ancient space shuttle fleet that’s due to expire and a huge stake in a space station which is in mid-life, not to mention dozens of other side projects which involve everything to investigating climate change to send probes to the furthest reaches of the solar system.

ISS

Above: Keeping the space station flying until the year 2020 is already eating up a huge amount of money for NASA — and the space shuttles need to get there are well overdue to be replaced.

So it’s wrong to ask NASA to have a plan to go to Mars unless you’re coming to the table with money — in fact tons of money. Frankly giving NASA an extra 10% (which they aren’t getting) won’t do the trick, you’d have to double or triple their yearly budgets. And frankly NASA hasn’t seen that level of investment since the 60s. Add to that mix is the fact that the states that directly benefit from NASA are Florida, Texas and Alabama which re all places that have swallowed the notion that big government projects are evil while gladly reaping the benefits.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon

Above: Accounting for inflation in 2005 dollars the Apollo program would cost $135 billion.

Telling Bolden to come up with a plan isn’t what’s needed — what’s required is for those in congress to put up the cash or shut up. The previous strategy from the Bush era was to take the money and say something ridiculous like “we’ll get to the moon in twenty years and then to Mars in forty years”. A space program isn’t like a credit card that you pay off once a month over the course of years — pulling off a manned space mission is a serious engineering task which has to be done in a huge push. In that way a moon or Mars mission is no different than digging the Panama Canal or putting up the Empire State Building. Saying that you’re going to Mars in more than twenty years is really saying that you’re not doing anything.

The Chinese Space Program

Above: The Chinese space program doesn’t have to beg for money.

And least we forget there is a real space race on the horizon: Within the next five to ten years we’re going to watch China land on the moon. And what’s sad about this is that it’s an indication of a larger issue which is that as a nation we seem to be afraid to invest in science. Congress needs to get serious about the investment required to not just get NASA to Mars but to keep America on the cutting edge of technology.

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