emember the good ole’ days when America’s national space program had sufficient political support to go to the Moon? Like so many other good ole’ days, those days are long dead and gone, and they will not be revived by the next
president. Not sure about this? Well, a brief look at history clarifies the mystery, and one need only look at back issues of this publication.
Space News has been running a series
titled “50 Years of Spaceflight.” Think back to 1969, the apex of the successful Apollo program. As space historian Roger Launius explained in the Feb. 11,
issue, “A 1969 Harris Poll found that 64 percent of U.S. citizens polled thought NASA’s then current $4 billion annual budget was too much …” [“Feb. 13, 1960: Task Group Charts NASA’s Future After Apollo,” page 16]. Yes, there was the Vietnam War, political turmoil, urban unrest and much civil angst and anger, but it was also the Apollo program’s shining year.
Yes, today we have different concerns that aren’t as immediately explosive and paralyzing as those of 1969, but they are front and center in America’s collective conscious. These include Iraq, energy and resources, the environment
and most notably the economy. I submit that within this context, which will engage us for the foreseeable future, “Apollo redux + Mars” will not generate the consistent public,
congressional support required for a successful Constellation Program.
And then there’s Mars, a central focus of the recent workshop co-hosted by Stanford University and The Planetary Society. The latter organization’s executive director, Louis Friedman, has said:
“The next administration should make the human spaceflight goal an international venture focused on Mars – both to bring in more public support and to sustain the program politically.”
Just because many in the space community want to go to Mars doesn’t mean such an effort will generate public and political support, now or during the next few years. This is clear if you read the space comments of the current
presidential candidates, which can be summarized as: “I love America.
I love apple pie.
NASA is as American as apple pie.
Space exploration is important, blah, blah, blah.”
You can barely get them to talk in detail about the Moon mission, let alone Mars. The candidates are driven by their perception of what will get them elected, period. Once elected, our new president will be driven by his/her perception of what will get him/her re-elected. And guess what? Mars doesn’t make the top 100 list of government spending priorities, let alone the top 10.
It’s simply irrelevant how wonderful, scientifically valuable
and briefly uplifting a visit to Mars would be. End of story. Want Mars? You’ve got a better chance if you ask Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and the rest of the world’s billionaires to pay for it. And given the right approach, perhaps they will. I understand Gates is looking for a new planet where he can sell more copies of Windows Vista (sales on Earth aren’t meeting Wall Street expectations), and Buffet must be tired of traveling to that same Davos chalet.
The same tired, old, pro-national space program arguments are trotted out over and over again as the solution to weak public and political support, as if the arguments just need to be made one more time to succeed. Unlike the real estate maxim “location, location, location,” it no longer works to repeatedly emphasize “exploration, exploration, exploration.” However, just like that real estate maxim, as on Earth, so in space
– and the Moon and asteroids are a better location than Mars for developing a space economy now.
Want to get the public and politicians demanding human space activity? Stop talking only about exploration, and start talking about the economic development of the solar system. Ask the
presidential candidates to craft a space policy to make that happen, rather than one designed to maintain jobs in the traditional aerospace industry and important
As for a true space economy, consider the following statement from John Marburger, the
president’s science advisor [“Marburger Confident Vision Survives for Long Term,” May 24, 2004, page 3]
: “There’s a big contrast between the president’s vision for space exploration and space exploration – particularly human space exploration – programs of the past.
The paradigm for NASA exploration up to now has been the Apollo program.”
In 2004, during a meeting with reporters in Washington, Marburger said the space exploration vision laid out by Bush is not another urgent “flag-planting approach” requiring the big spending spikes last seen during the Apollo years. Instead, it is
a sustained effort to reorient NASA to expanding humanity’s presence in the solar system.
“The president has accepted the notion that eventually humans will incorporate accessible space into their economic zone,” Marburger said. “The question is what would you have to do to make interplanetary space part of our turf?” Pushing for Mars now ignores this.
Want the Moon? Want Mars? Want the entire solar system? The history-without-mystery lesson is: don’t depend on sustained political support and government funding. Instead, build an economically viable cis-lunar transportation infrastructure that serves multiple markets both on and off Earth, and then you will have economically sustainable (
i.e. permanent) settlements throughout the solar system. By now we should know that the best way to prevent this is to rely on a
president to give NASA a space exploration mission with target dates that ignore the emerging capabilities of the NewSpace industry.
Jeff Krukin is a NewSpace business development consultant, creator of The Human-Space Connection concept, and a director of the Space Frontier Foundation. He may be reached via his Web site, www.jeffkrukin.com.