The most recent NASA soap opera started with administrator Michael Griffin giving the incoming Obama transition team a hard time — coming from an engineering background Griffin’s fear was that the Obama administration was going to gut the new moon rocket program. To be fair to Griffin the program was way over budget (so it looked like a good target) and early in the campaign trail Obama sent mixed signals on his support for manned exploration. The latest chapter was Griffin’s wife sending out a sad email pleading his case to keep his job (despite the fact that he is a Bush administration employee).
As a NASA fanboy I admit that I was fearing the worst: But now the good news is that it turns out that Obama is dead serious about not only going back to the moon, but trying to beat China. This story just came out on Friday when the press leaned that Obama was going to tear down the wall between NASA and the Pentagon. At first I sort of winced at the idea of watering down NASA’s mission — but it made me realize that Obama was dead serious about manned spaceflight a cause that I fully approve.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of international efforts — in fact the International Space Station couldn’t exist without the support of Europe and Russia (and so many other nations). However the last time space exploration was sexy was the 60s during the space race — and ironically the communists proved that competition is a good thing. The result of the space race was that within less than twenty years you got to watch the first satellite go into orbit and then just a short time later (in the big picture) you see man on the moon.
But sadly after the Apollo program manned space exploration has been stuck in time. Thanks to Hubble we’ve discovered more planets in the last ten years than the last thousand, but there’s something very cool about humans getting off this damn rock. In fact Stephen Hawking believes critical for humans to move off of planet Earth if we’re to survive as a species in the long term. But sadly since the 70s we haven’t done anything except to go into orbit and create a better version of Skylab.
Having a new space race is good because not only will it bring NASA back, but it will also encourage China (and maybe India!) to accelerate their space programs. My hope is that not only can this happen quickly within the next few years — but that it might get the world serious about going to Mars. In fact my hope is that a return to the moon would be what it was advertised to be: The first serious step in a Mars exploration program.Original here