NASA’s Mission

To the moon, Alice?

Mike Thomas has commentary on what he calls NASA’s next boondoggle – the Return to the Moon. But to get there, he berates NASA on two points – a lack of mission and a lack of execution. On the former, about the International Space Station he says “Whereas once we were sold dreams of cancer cures, now we’ll be lucky to get weightless gerbil sex up there.” On the latter, he writes:

Then came two shuttle disasters. And before the station was even half-built, agency officials began complaining they had no mission and needed to fly off into the solar system.

We still don’t have safe and routine access to space. And now, we won’t have our grandiose research platform up there either.

In other words, he’s saying that NASA hasn’t done much of anything lately, and what it’s done is pretty useless. Funding, he notes, is completely dependent on Congressional appropriations committees, which are – ahem – rather sensitive to the jobs that NASA creates. NASA is, after all, not much more than an agency of contract administrators these days.

Make no mistake – that’s by design. It’s how we fulfil our international obligations and keep alive the possibility of reaching other planets. The question is – why?

So do we really have to go back to the moon at all? “Why?” Thomas asks.

You know we are headed for a boondoggle when the agency’s marketing division starts up a Web page called, “Why the Moon?”

And the first sentence is, “If you asked 100 people why we should return to the moon, you’d probably get 100 answers — or more!”

Translation: We can’t come up with one good one.

That is the quote that Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings pulls out too. Wrong answers – and analysis, Rand says.

I’d call that a mistranslation. It’s like saying that we shouldn’t have removed Saddam because we didn’t find WMD. It really is possible for there to be more than one reason to do something (and in fact, most decisions are made on that basis–any one reason might not, per se, be sufficient, but a combination of them often are).

I’ve come to the opinion that having even 100 reasons misses the point. JFK gave us only one after all – “Because it’s ha(r)d.”

The only reason that counts, as far as I’m concerned, is that we want to. And in this case, it doesn’t matter if the “we” is the Congressional Appropriations Committee, the voting public of the U.S. or some consortium made up of ESA, Burt Rutan, Rupert Murdock and two Cosmonauts to be named later. We could build the pyramids again too, but be won’t, because unlike the pharaoh Khufu, we don’t want to. The cold war convinced only Congress to go to the moon the first time, but the public backed the Apollo mission because it – we – wanted to go to the moon.

So do we want to go back to the moon? I’m not sure it would stand a vote, but it’s not clear to me that such a vote would fail, either. Lot’s of “It depends” in there. Our elected leaders are very sensitive to the wishes of the voting public, and they reflect our own ambivalence. And when we’re clear on it, they’ll be clear on it (or be un-elected, potentially). That’s democracy for ya.

So do we have Presidential candidates that have spoken clearly on the issue? Well, why yes, we do. It may seem odd, but NASA’s mission in most certainly in our own hands, more so than at any other time that I can remember.

Explore posts in the same categories: domestic, politics, Space

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