I am pleased to see increased support for commercial launch vehicles and new technology in President Barack Obama’s plans for NASA, but I also strongly agree with Stephen A. Evans [“NASA Needs Advanced Tech To Reach Destination,” letter, March 1, page 18].

If we are going to invest in new technology, deep space propulsion is where our money needs to go.

Investing in a new hydrocarbon engine would be an even bigger waste than spending five years failing to duplicate the medium-lift rockets that already exist. Hydrocarbon rocketry is a mature technology ripe for commercialization — which is exactly what Space Exploration Technologies is doing with its new engines.

I also agree that undirected technology development is pointless if our goal is to move humanity into the solar system. If there is any lesson in the past 30 years, it is that commercial launch vehicle development and advanced technology both got nowhere until there was a destination in space to give them political and financial justification — the international space station. Without such destinations, it is a safe bet that four or eight years from now, when the nation’s goals in space change yet again, we will have a collection of half-finished and abandoned technologies and no commerce in deep space.

The Obama administration was probably correct to drop the applicative Ares 1 in favor of subsidizing new commercial launch vehicles.

However, the rest of Constellation — reoptimized for deep space exploration and to use commercial products whenever possible — must go forward.

Historically, frontiers have been colonized by adapting existing technologies to new uses in the most efficient way possible, and there is no reason to expect space to be different.

Once we have a destination and a market for supplies on the Moon, or just possibly on one of the martian moons, new technology will have a political and financial reason to be developed.


Donald F. Robertson

San Francisco

Donald F. Robertson is a retired space industry journalist and technical writer based in San Francisco.