misguided spaceflight

June 24, 2009

NASAs nifty Constellation logo

NASA's nifty logo for Constellation: "Earth, Moon, Mars"

The Obama administration has ordered a review of NASA’s human spaceflight program, the next iteration of which is called Constellation and is planned to take us to back to the moon in 2020 and to Mars around 2030. Budget woes may delay the program, but I question the strategy in returning to the Moon.

To properly approach this issue, I must first explain the entire context of manned spaceflight. In my opinion, it’s a PR campaign. In the Cold War 50s, 60s, and 70s, we used spaceflight to flex our technological muscle. Not only did landing on the moon and the rest of the groundbreaking missions flaunt our scientific and engineering abilities to the world, it also inspired a generation of scientists an engineers here in the U.S. Hell, it still inspires me that we were able to land people on the moon.

In another perspective, one could argue, is that exploring is what we humans do, from Marco Polo to Leif Ericson to Shackleton. Exploring our planetary neighbors is simply the next phase. I’m quite amenable to this idea because I attach our desire to explore to our general quest to make sense of our surroundings.

Pursuing this desire is an important undertaking, but it shouldn’t distract from the rest of space exploration through probes, robots, and telescopes, a project with much more (in my opinion) scientific and philosophical promise. Given the massive cost of sending a human to the moon again (the GAO estimates as high as as $230 billion!), I can’t help but think that we can get more bang for our buck in other cosmological projects.

The ultimate goal for NASA’s Constellation project is putting humans on Mars (and returning them, of course). I this this goal is fruitful and is the natural next step to our space exploration. Going to the moon again simply because we can seems like a waste of time and resources.

When space exploration bleeds into politics and PR (and believe me, NASA’s got plenty to go around), we must be all the more thoughtful about which direction in space we’re going.

One Response to “misguided spaceflight”

  1. I quite agree with you, Drausin: continued adventures to the moon are a collossal waste of money and other resources. I shall go one step further: NASA is a huge waste of money and other resources, not to mention a polluter of untold galactic proportions. We’re familiar with the argument that the PR stunt Kennedy and his successors pulled by making the moon landing a national priority was a much-needed morale booster in a Cold War climate. And perhaps we will suffer the same argument right now. Woe is us: banking crisis, two mistaken wars, deteriorating health care and education, oil and other addictions . . . Let’s go to the moon! It’s tiresome, isn’t it? A brief illustrative anecdote: In the 1960s NASA spent over a million dollars developing a ball point pen that could operate in zero-gravity environments. The Soviet Union gave its cosmonauts pencils! Imagine if we took that $230 billion and put it directly into envirnomental mitigation, pollution cleanup (including space trash), and to refer to your other recent posts, wetlands reclamation, groundwater conservation, and investments in solar power. Now that’s a PR stunt I could get behind.

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