“The United States entered into the challenge of space exploration under President Eisenhower’s first term, however, it was the Soviet Union who excelled in those early years,” the letter begins.” Under the bold vision of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and with the overwhelming approval of the American people, we rapidly closed the gap in the final third of the 20th century, and became the world leader in space exploration. …
“When President Obama recently released his budget for NASA, he proposed a slight increase in total funding, substantial research and technology development, an extension of the International Space Station operation until 2020, long range planning for a new but undefined heavy lift rocket and significant funding for the development of commercial access to low earth orbit.
“Although some of these proposals have merit, the accompanying decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating.
“America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz (at a price of over 50 million dollars per seat with significant increases expected in the near future) until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves. The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.
“It appears that we will have wasted our current ten plus billion dollar investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded.
For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President’s plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.
Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program, which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.
Commander, Apollo 11
Commander, Apollo 13
Commander, Apollo 17″
You know I have to agree here. Hardly anyone is paying attention to what should a hotly debated and covered issue. But it’s a complicated issue, and you know because Tiger Woods and the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brian spat are so deeply important to the country, and who wants to see this boring old policy dispute when we can cut away to a bank robbery in another city for four hours because it draws viewership. Truly a media conglomerate doesn’t give a damn about content really and this is by design. “News” outlets want viewership, and they happen to be manned by celebrity wanna-bees who make Ron Burgundy look like Eric Sevareid.
But here is a policy issue that is at best an issue about the character of America for better or worse. Think about the Roman Empire during the Second Punic War. Think about this for a moment, in 215 BC, Hannibal invaded the heart of Rome and crushed one army after another, as had no enemy of Rome ever had up to that moment. Guess what else, he stayed there for over a decade because Rome couldn’t raise an army or come to agreement on the best way to beat him.
Did that stop Rome from managing its other affairs? No. While Hannibal was plundering the Roman countryside, Roman armies were still quelling insurgencies in Spain, in Gaul, and in North Africa. They were still building Roman structures and roads and ships and they still collected taxes.
In other words, Romans did not let the vicissitudes of the day stop them from being Roman. But right now, America is giving ground in an area that has meant more than just national pride; it has meant jobs, and new technologies and safety. Folks, we are three Shuttle missions away from not having the ability to put one of our astronauts on the International Space Station without the help of Russian robot low orbit vehicles launched from Kazakhstan.
Obama has canceled the Moon and Mars programs and the development of heavy lift vehicles like Ares and Orion vehicles. We are standing at the end of our dominance in space for what would be a tiny fraction of our investment in Afghanistan and/or Iraq. For a tiny fraction of what we gave thieving bankers in bonuses we are about to leave ourselves in second place in space.
As Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “It’s OK for us to be looking up into the Universe.” I agree. We should see NASA as an investment into flight platforms, jobs, technologies, and the advancement of science and fund it properly. We have already given up so much ground in particle accelerators, in high speed processing, in university science funding.
But NASA. Man, this is also a matter of American character. If Rome could survive Hannibal and not lose ground elsewhere, we can at least do that. What is wrong with us that we would not fund an area where we have so much invested already? Do we want empty launch gantries rotting in Florida’s Space Coast the way our steel and textile factories are rotting?
It isn’t necessary for us to lose ground like this in space. We’ll make it through health care reform and financial reform and Iraq and Afghanistan and the economic turbulence all right. We will make it. Let’s not make it worse. Let us not lose our vision.