Return to the Moon and on to Mars

Return to the Moon and on to Mars

As predicted, the president has proposed the US returning to the Moon and eventually going to Mars. The details: the Space Shuttles will be replaced by 2010. The first Moon landing as early as 2015. First men on Mars could happen by 2020 or 2025.

By the way, that Reuters story linked above is perhaps one of the most biased pieces of newswriting I’ve seen in a while. Unnamed “critics” and “observers” and other people taken out of context and scary visions of military space races and depleted budgets. It even takes a swipe at the President’s father and snidely remarks that the president was an “oilman” when he said there are many resources on the Moon. What do the two have to do with each other?

Anyway, the only thing missing—and I have to admit that I haven’t seen the details of his speech yet—is that I would rather see private industry take the lead in this. Just like the private sector launched the airline industry, so should they re-launch the space business. I would rather the innovation of private business over the plodding and bureaucracy of the government. Although, it could be said that NASA is that most strange of chimeras: a public-private corporation. It works so closely with contractors as to be almost indistinguishable from them at times and is involved in selling a vital service. In a way it’s more akin to the Postal Service or a utility than to, say, the Pentagon.

In any case, I see $1 billion over 5 years to be an inexpensive price tage for such an important goal. For one thing, just replacing the Space Shuttles is a huge and necessary job. Without reliable orbital space transportation so much of our economy would grind to a halt from a lack of satellites.

I look forward to seeing how this plays out. Some scientists will decry human exploration as a waste of resources. Democrats will say we are focusing too much out there and not enough on programs down here. Libertarians will just balk at the cost. But I love the vision and the idea. Thank God, Columbus and those who followed didn’t listen to the naysayers. It’s ironic that it’s the nation founded in the land they discovered that will propel makind forward on the next frontier of exploration.

  • There’s quite a serious argument to be made that disposable rockets are going to get satellites into orbit cheaper and more reliably for the forseeable future.

    Columbus was funded on the quite reasonable basis that his voyage would yield spice, silk, and gold.  No such economic justification exists today for space.  It’s for glory alone.

  • On the contrary, just one justification is that building something on the Moon and transporting it to low Earth orbit is actually less expensive (in energy usage) than building it on Earth lifting it to orbit. Plus there are all kinds of manufacturing and mining industries which would work better in space or on the Moon than on Earth. Never mind the eventual goal of mining comets and asteroids. In order to reach such far-flung goals, we have to start somewhere.