The Obama administration, boxed in by a collapsed global economy and corporate excess, has made the correct, albeit unpopular, decision on reinventing the nation's space agency while providing a needed course correction for manned spaceflight. I only wish the President and his advisors hadn't been forced to make their decisions under the present economic circumstances.
I would have preferred that the U.S. attempt to maintain a leading position in returning to the moon, then going to Mars. After spending nearly three decades in low-Earth orbit, it is time to refocus NASA's priorities and get the space agency back on track to explore the solar system.
There are vital reasons to do so. The human race is on an unsustainable path; our sun will cease to shine in the far-distant future. It is therefore incumbent on each generation to undertake the work of exploring new worlds, initially as a source of raw materials. When humans reach Mars, they will not identify themselves by nationality. They will say, "We came from Earth."
|Navy Capt. Edgar Mitchell at Fra Mauro in February 1971.
The problem is that we are not ready for such a trip. Our resources and technical knowledge must be marshaled toward that new goal in the way that President John F. Kennedy launched the moon race in 1961.
A fellow moonwalker once noted that Kennedy had taken a decade from the 21st century and moved it to the 20th century. But most Americans did not appreciate the full impact of the task of landing humans on the moon and returning them safely to Earth.
Certainly, none but the 22 humans who traveled to the moon between 1968 and 1972 experienced firsthand the emotional impact of seeing the full circle of the Earth. Exploring the moon helped humankind appreciate its fragile home planet. Exploration of the solar system can do even more.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a no-nonsense retired Marine Corps general and a veteran of four space shuttle flights, has proposed that the space agency develop "new capabilities" needed to "align NASA for the future." High on the to-do list for exploring the solar system is development of advanced technologies required for a heavy-lift rocket-the next-generation Saturn V, if you will.