NASA: Surrender the Moon to Save the Space Station?

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jan 29, 2010 in Science |

ISS

From what I’m reading the upcoming NASA budget will do three things: Give up the underfunded quest to return to the moon, keep the ISS flying until 2020 and push to outsource a shuttle replacement which would mean scrapping the Ares I rocket. This is all unconfirmed at this point, but the it looks like NASA funding will increase by $6 billion which sounds good on paper, but may not be enough to replace the shuttle soon enough.

Personally I never liked the moon project, it always seemed too far off in the future and underfunded to be realistic. And now it seems that my previous intuition about the long term viability of the project seemed correct. While there was support for the program in Florida and maybe Texas the rest of America just doesn’t get excited about returning to 1969. My guess is that may change after China and maybe even India pull off a moon landing, but for now there is no political will.

Illustration of the now dead project to return NASA to the moon

I would have rather seen a real effort to get humans to land on Mars, but that would have taken leadership from the White House which just isn’t there. Sadly lacking a space race there’s no gain in spending the money when there are sure sell programs like investing in clean energy. And of course if we can’t get $104 billion to go to the moon realistically my guess is that a Mars trip would cost a tad more.

However despite giving up on the big vision thing the idea of saving the space station seems very appealing to me. Had we not done that it was looking like the Russians would have spun off their section while the rest fell to Earth a la Skylab. As for the Ares I rocket the sad reality is that we should have been investing in a shuttle replacement twenty years ago, so you’d have to blame a lack of vision on Bush, Clinton and Bush (and maybe even Reagan too).

So in effect NASA is getting a bit of a boost but not going anywhere. Given that the United States is fighting two wars and facing a killer recession the realist in me isn’t surprised, however the fanboy in me that had hopes to see an aggressive manned space program in my lifetime is quite disappointed. As a nation we’ll pay cash to watch the latest sc fi movie like Avatar and we’ll gladly spend tons of cash on gadgets but when it comes to do something that’s a bit bigger for the ages we seem to lack the imagination and drive required.

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