I once, quite inadvertently, got a reader removed from use at my child’s school. It seemed to have been written by the same “lunched out” hippies that in the nineteen-seventies, who decided that because they were against the Vietnam War, and it’s killing on an industrial scale, they were against any other form of technology backed by the government, including space exploration.
This little book depicted and ridiculed geeky rocket scientists and their disastrous attempt to launch a rocket and actually learn something. I told the school that I don’t send my children there so they can be taught the message that “science is stupid and only something to be pursued by hapless nerds”.
Perhaps members of the Obama administration were given the same readers in school, because they seem to believe the same thing.
During the development of the Shuttle program, when it was running behind schedule and over budget, the Office of Management and Budget and the Carter administration decided to scuttle the planetary exploration budget to pay for the shuttle, on the basis that the shuttle would make space access so cheap that if these missions were “postponed” to pay for the shuttle, the US would be able to fly all the planetary missions we wanted, for next to nothing.
Like the (apocryphal) quote about the cost of nuclear energy, space access would become “too cheap to meter”. As many readers may have noticed, this did not happen. Fortunately, the battle was joined, and partially won. As a result, we now know that most of the things I was taught in school in the nineteen-seventies about space science were wrong.
Guess what folks, the same thing is about to happen again, this time without the courtesy of whispering sweet nothings in our ears about the proverbial jam tomorrow, cheap access to space. Instead, we are told that the money will be spent to build a huge, expensive rocket, which will be used once or twice a year to do some unspecific something one day in the far future.
We are being told, by the administration and NASA, that the big rocket is the most effective way to perform these unspecified human deep space missions. This has already been exposed as a lie, and NASA has already been caught out in their efforts to cover up this fact. The truth is that smaller launchers that we already have could launch fuel depots, which we could develop relatively cheaply, for far less then developing the giant pork barrel rocket that is the SLS.
With fuel depots, we could have our cake and eat it. We could develop something new, possibly actually reduce the cost of carrying out deep space missions, encourage the private launch industry (to launch the depots, fuel and mission components), and fund the missions that are currently being axed by the administration, all without increasing the NASA budget. The government jobs that the SLS would presumably protect are already long gone, so this must be an attempt to protect various government contractors, and their big fat campaign donations.
The current plan will mean the death of planetary exploration for the foreseeable future.
The battle to save the James Webb Telescope (which, contrary to what you may have heard, has not been won) is just the tip the iceberg. Here is what you could have won…
· The Terrestrial Planet Finder - cancelled.
· Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter - cancelled.
· ExoMars – long standing commitment to partner with the European Space Agency, broken, leaving the ESA holding the bag, and begging Russia for help.
· James Webb Telescope – on life support.
· Mars Sample Return mission - the most important upcoming Mars mission... has been delayed and delayed, and will probably never happen.
· The follow on rover to the Mars Science Laboratory – postponed indefinitely.
Have a look at the “future missions” page at the NASA website…
There are just three missions listed, and one of them is the International Space Station! The Mars program seems dead after the current mission. There are no plans to send any more missions to the outer solar system this decade, even though there is a huge opportunity to perhaps find life or signs of life on Titan and Europa. A mission to Uranus and Neptune is also decades overdue.
Make no mistake, the luddites are winning. Don’t let them. Don’t make a phone call, don’t write a letter –make an appointment, go to your representatives office, sit on the other side of their desk and tell them what you want your money to spent on, by your space program.
If enough people of whatever party did this, it would stun and amaze members of Congress, who honestly think that the public do not care.
Prove them wrong.