Your editorial “A Tough Loss for NASA” [March 31, page 18]
repeats some unfortunate shibboleths that have taken hold in NASA. I refer to the parsing of issues along bureaucratic lines, and dividing space exploration into constituencies.
The worst parsing has occurred with the separation of “science” and “exploration.”
Unfortunately “exploration” in the
agency has become a euphemism for the rocket programs, and “science” is where the missions of planetary exploration are considered to be narrowly focused. The result is that we have a Vision for Space Exploration without a Vision. The Mars goal and science basis which was included in its original form are now put aside. Since the
vision was announced, the Mars program has been cut every year, first in the Exploration Directorate, and then in the Science Directorate.
The lack of public interest or identification with Constellation is, I believe, a consequence.
Space News contends that the charge that Mars exploration is being shortchanged is “nonsense.” But cutting a program that was part of a national initiative twice in its first three years surely qualifies as “short change.” This somewhat surprising Space News defense of cutting the Mars program by 40 percent
comes from viewing Mars as one among many solar system constituencies, and the solar system as one among many science constituencies. It is the Washington way – divide up the interests and make each one a special one that has to beg for favors. This works fine in our narrow space community, but serves us badly when it comes to public interest and the efforts to get public support behind space exploration.
The public vision focuses on Mars: U.S. President George W. Bush recognized this when he (over the wishes of the bureaucrats) inserted it into the Vision for Space Exploration. French President Nicolas Sarcozy recognized it when he called on the industrialized nations to cooperate on a human Mars mission – despite the current space programs focus on the Moon. Mars exploration needs to be viewed as an
agency program, not pigeonholed into “science” or “exploration,” or considered just one of the nine (or eight) planets. If we can’t recognize that we, in the space community, will continue arguing about the pieces in the pie, instead of involving the public in making the pie bigger.
This is not a Planetary Society (or Louis Friedman) Mars-centered view. We fought for Hubble and Voyager and Cassini and doggedly supported a mission to Pluto (now New Horizons) and a mission to Europa in recent years. Our advocacy spans the solar system – if not the
universe. But Mars has that unique connection to human exploration – it is there we will learn humankind’s fate as a single or multi-planet species.
If we want to think just about science, or just about destinations for robots, or just about the bureaucratic structure of NASA’s budget – then surely Mars is just one among many programs. But if we want to think about humankind – Mars beckons.
The Planetary Society