After looking back to an amazing accomplishment that took place 40 years ago, many of us have been wondering how much more we could have achieved in space over the last four decades.
After being held back for so long, just a few years ago NASA was given a meaningful direction, the Vision for Space Exploration, a mission to reach out to the Moon, Mars and beyond. Achieving this vision was placed into the hands of competent and capable engineers like Werner von Braun, rather than being disastrously micromanaged by politicians such as with former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson’s administration running the Vietnam War.
Our space agency has undertaken the development of a practical, versatile, safe and reasonably economical system, Constellation, for achieving these objectives. Unlike the dead-end race to beat the Russians, this is a long-term commitment with flexible target dates dictated by realistic NASA budgets.
In contrast, a recent review committee has been putting forward impatient and short-sighted arguments that because NASA might not be able to complete a Moon landing by 2020, the entire program should be scrapped, and NASA should once again be cast adrift. This temporally challenged group also appears to have problems thinking beyond low Earth orbit.
NASA does not need a larger budget. What it does need is consistency and even a fair amount of insulation from the turmoil that is so inherent in our sometimes less than perfect system of government. Forty years from now, let us hope that we will not still feel this same sense of loss.