The Future of Space Travel

As I’m writing this, I’m waiting to listen to the speech President Obama is going to make today. It’s probably one that people who pay attention to politics won’t pay any heed to, but as someone who believes space travel is something that is fundamentally necessary, I’m seriously panicking over here. (By the way, you can watch Obama’s speech – and the conference NASA is holding afterwards to discuss it – on nasa.gov.)

You see, on February 2nd, Obama made a speech about the future of NASA that set no clear goals on when we’re going back to the Moon and scrapped a couple of different programs, and while some people have said that this isn’t as dire a pronouncement as it seems, others have said it does mean no manned missions for something like ten years for NASA, and no set goals for when we will get back to the Moon, or to Mars. A lot of people in the scientific community have said that it’s basically a “flexible path to nowhere,” and that it’ll be disastrous for manned space flight.

I know that I should probably trust that my government knows what it’s doing and that everything will be all right and that this plan is actually going to be good for NASA, and for the space program, and will mean we’ll be colonizing the Moon in no time, but when Neil Armstrong speaks up against something, I get a little worried.

I’m a member of the Mars Society, and it’s been kind of heatwrenching reading the emails they’ve been sending out, pleading for people to send emails and phone calls to their electied officials, as well as sending out offical statements from the head of the Mars Society ( Robert Zubrin) and various previous astronauts and other scientists, knowing there’s very little we can do to influence the President’s decision. We’re at his mercy, and this si something that doesn’t really matter much to the President. I’m not trying to knock Obama, it’s just not the top of his agenda, as much as I think space exploration always should be.

This isn’t some national pride, America has to do it first sort of thing. If Russia or China or Japan or the UK get to Mars first, good for them. I’ll be just as excited as I would be if it was anAmerica mission. But we, as a nation, need some kind of goal for space travel. When Kennedy said we were going to get on the Mooon by the end of the decade, come hell or highwater, no one believed it was possible, but it gave us something to work towards, channeled all the competition and animosity of the Cold War into the Space Race, instead of nuclear war. It united us as a nation, made funding for science programs easier than ever, and inspired a generation of kids to become engineers and physicists and astronauts.

We could get to the Moon – and Mars – at any time, if someone would just give us a goal. We got to the Moon on all the technology of a pocket calculation – I’ve seen some of the spacecraft early astronauts rode in, and they were tiny, fragile things that looked like they were made out of aluminum foil and the indomnitable nature of the human spirit.  Our technology far outsurpasses that of our predecessors who went to the Moon on a regular basis, it’s ridiculous. And NASA has the same amount of funding (if you translate 1969 dollars into today’s dollars) that they had when the space program was in it’s golden age. We can do this. We HAVE done this.

Anyway, it’s all immaterial, because whatever the President says goes, and not many people outside of the sciences seem to care about space exploration anymore, but I had to write that, for the ten year old girl in me who desperately wanted to be the first woman to walk on Mars.  It’s never going to happen – I’m never going to set foot off this planet – but there’s still a part of me that hopes.

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Comments
One Response to “The Future of Space Travel”
  1. Stephen Ramey says:

    I agree with you. Since we have shown no inclination to limit our numbers on this planet, the only reasonable frontier remaining to us is space: the solar system planets, meteor belt, etc.. Buzz Aldrin supports the president’s approach, which is basically to encourage private industry incursion into this industry. It’s no secret that the current system of rewarding major players with plum government contracts and ineffective oversight has brought us little closer to our goal of space exploration. On the other hand, government’s role in essential basic research is huge. If Obama’s strategy is intended to wean us away from a government-contract-as-re-election-strategy approach, then I support it. If it is to devote all our resources to planet-bound problems, I share your concern for our future. Maybe what we need is for China to actually send a manned mission to Mars. That could jump start us as the Russians did for the moon landings. At worst it would provide me with a forward-looking county to emigrate to.

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