NASA!!!! Come on now!

I heard a report on NPR this morning about the decommissioning of the Shuttles remaining in the Space Program and the movement towards the new Orion rockets (based, if I remember correctly, on the early Saturn rocket design).

While I have no objections to the design they’re moving towards (staged separation rockets, as far as I know, have a lot less of the maintenance issues that plagued the Shuttle over the last few years — and as a result cause far fewer teachers to incinerate), I do have some objections to the trajectory of the program.  The main goal, it seems, is to get back to the Moon.

The arguments in favor of this, as stated by the NASA scientists interviewed this morning were as follows:

  1. While our parents’ generation went to the Moon, our generation hasn’t yet
  2. We’ve only had a little over 300 hours to explore the Moon.  There’s so much left of the planet to explore.
  3. We need to get smart minds excited about space again.

My responses to these are:

  1. So what?  My parents generation has been to Vietnam.  Doesn’t make me want to fight another war there.  Seems like a pretty juvenile argument, to tell you the truth.
  2. First of all, the Moon isn’t a planet.  It’s a moon. Show some respect to poor Pluto.  Second of all, in the time we’ve spent there, we’ve figured out that a) the moon is not easily or readily inhabitable and b) the moon used to be part of the Earth c) it’s now a big ball of dust and rock with little signs of life, water, etc.  What else do we need to know about it?
  3. There are tons of exciting challenges in space.  Tons.  Not the least of which would be cleaning up all of the junk we have in orbit which caused the ISS people to be on high alert last week.  I don’t see how going to the moon is particularly exciting and inspiring to a new generation.  It’s done (unless of course you believe the conspiracy theories, in which case we haven’t actually done it yet).   Let’s aim higher.

There are those who agree with this and think that, if we want to head to the Moon again it should only be to the purpose of establishing it as a base of operations for deeper space exploration (Mars for example).

The Russians seem to have the right idea.  On Tuesday they will start experiments with the aim of testing how humans would react to such a long space flight as the one required to get to Mars.

Only time will tell how this all will come out in the wash.  But I definitely think we should think carefully about our long-term goals in terms of space travel.  Especially considering it’s a recession and these things are damned pricey.

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