Bart Gordon gets it

By Phil Plait | January 1, 2007 10:23 pm

Rep. Bart Gordon (D, TN’s 6th District) is the incoming chairman of the House Science Committee. He replaces the outgoing chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican who was a staunch supporter of science. I’ll note I have been accused of being anti-Republican, which is not true– I am anti anti-science. I support people like Boehlert, who understand what real science is and why it’s important.

Gordon, it turns out, may be a fine replacement. I am always a little nervous when committees change hands, because things may go from good to bad (or bad to worse!), but in this case there is hope.

Rep. Gordon wrote a brief editorial for the newspaper The Tennessean. He supports NASA and the mission to return people to the Moon. But he has a caveat, and it is actually a skillfully woven single sentence that brings up two major points that I have as well:

However, we will need more specifics from NASA and the president to fully evaluate the current moon base proposal for its value, feasibility and, of course, affordability. If a return to the moon is really the president’s priority, he needs to come up with the funds required, not simply take money from NASA’s other core missions and programs.

This brings up two critical points:

  1. Money. Where will NASA fund this? As it stands, Bush gave NASA an unfunded mandate to go to the Moon and Mars. NASA bit into this wholesale, saying it could be done. And sure enough, it can, if you’re willing to sacrifice a major chunk of astronomical science. NASA has been doing just that, cancelling many missions and delaying others. This cannot stand. The only option is to increase NASA’s budget and make sure there is oversight that the money isn’t thrown down a black hole (so to speak). NASA’s budget is tiny, and this money can be found.
  2. Public outreach. When Gordon says "more specifics" I think he means that NASA needs to be more upfront on costs (they specifically avoided talking about how much a Moon base would cost in a recent press conference), but I think this could also be interpreted as simply having NASA make some sort of case for going to the Moon.

I am becoming increasingly frustrated over the NASA administration’s weak attempts at getting the public behind them on this. After years of work making plans on a new rocket to get us to the Moon, a new lander, and all that, they had and still have precious few actual webpages about why they’re doing this. I have some stuff I found (and I’ll write about it at some later date), but there has been a pretty good vacuum on any sort of public appeal for this. This needs to be done, and it needs to be done now (in fact, it needed to be done four years ago, but now will suffice). If NASA doesn’t get off its collective butt and rally support for this, the NASA admin will find the new Democratic committees won’t be all that gung ho on funding it.

I really hope that someone high up in the NASA bureaucracy reads this, or reads what Rep. Gordon is saying, and that it sinks in. If it doesn’t, putting humans back on the Moon is sunk before any metal is even cut.


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