Monday, May 18, 2009

Political Space

A good friend of mine who's a space fanatic like me, pointed out recently that we're doing the same thing with the Shuttle that we did with the Apollo program: Scrapping it with no replacement for 5 years. Then he went on to say,

I wonder how many Astronauts, not just pilots but like the guys fixing the Hubble, will retire because they will have nothing to do for over 5 years while they wait on the Shuttle's replacement. I wonder how much money it costs to train these guys so they can leave.

And talk about full circle, we are scraping the Shuttle for an advanced Apollo spacecraft, which we could have upgraded back in the 70s.

NASA is woefully inefficient and makes dopy mistakes, it's true, but I blame Congress almost exclusively for this. If they gave NASA enough money to build the new Constellation moon ships and fly Shuttles for 5 more years, you may be sure they’d do it. Government bureaucracies love to keep doing the same thing they’ve always done as long as you give them money. It was the same thing in the ‘70’s: If people hadn’t lost interest and Congress didn’t cut back their budget, NASA probably would have flown all the Apollo missions they had planned and then started building moon bases.

But instead the money disappeared all of a sudden (there were even a few Lunar Modules they just stopped building halfway through) and they had to refocus on “Earth sciences,” shaking hands with the Soviets in space, and a Shuttle without the space tug that was supposed to go with it (the main reason the Shuttle had to settle for being a "space truck" instead of living up to its potential). Those are all very nice in their own right of course, but they condemned us to low-Earth orbit for 40 years and then to having to re-invent the wheel when we finally decided to go back to the Moon.

At least we had those cool little probes to Mars.

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