Like I’ve said before: I’d like to see us cooperating more internationally, and I fear a new space race with China might be good for funding in the short run, but terrible in the long run. We spent a lot on getting to the Moon – and don’t get me wrong, we gained a huge amount from it – but the effort itself fizzled quickly, leaving us with a space program that lacked vision and didn’t have big goals. As amazing as Curiosity is, I wonder if we would be putting people on Mars by now had the American government, and the people too, had the gumption to keep that technology moving forward.
Oh, what might have been…
So, what do you do with the rocket capable of lifting 130 tons off the Earth that’s requested of NASA in the Presidential budget for 2012?
Some Congresscritters in the US House have an idea. They want NASA to go back to the Moon.
A bill making this case was recently submitted to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology where it’ll be debated. I have no idea if it’ll get out of committee, let alone pass on the floor of the House.
But it’s interesting. The bill, HR 1641, states as its purpose:
To direct the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to plan to return to the Moon and develop a sustained human presence on the Moon.
Ah, that word, "sustained". It fills me with nachas, as my mom would say. Whenever I look at the Moon, every time, I wonder when we’ll go back.
HR 1641 lists many reasons to go back, and indeed hits the high notes of increased knowledge of science, developing advanced technology, improving our long-term economy, and inspiring young people.
But then it says this:
(10) Space is the world’s ultimate high ground, returning to the Moon and reinvigorating our human space flight program is a matter of national security.
(11) Technologies developed and sustained by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s human space flight program, such as liquid and solid rocket propulsion, environmental and life support systems, and communications, navigation, and control systems are important to our military.
(12) China and Russia, understanding the economic and strategic importance of human space flight, have declared their intentions of colonizing the Moon and are advancing their lunar exploration plans.
(13) It is strategically important that the United States possess and maintain the capabilities of unfettered operation in the space domain, and not cede the space domain to other nations.
Yeah, well. It’s true that China wants to go to the Moon, and Russia may or may not have the wherewithal to do it, but I’m not happy with this being a motivation for us to go back. I don’t like the idea of using the dreaded "other" as an impetus for space exploration. We’ve done this in the past — the whole reason we went to the Moon in the 60s was to beat the Soviets — and look what happened there. Yes, we went, and it was magnificent, but as soon as political winds changed Apollo was canceled. Apollo 14 hadn’t even lifted off when the last missions were taken off the books.
Some space advocates call Apollo a "flags and footprints" mission: get there just to get there. That’s what a space race tends to do. Once you win, what then? Well, you’re done. You’ve won.
But when we go back to the Moon, it shouldn’t be a race. I want us to go back to stay. Get there, set up shop, figure out how to establish life there and then sustain it.