When I last wrote about space exploration, I made two points that are relevant to today’s column. 1. “Dominance” of this exploration is irrelevant if interplanetary migration is being considered. 2. The private sector cannot take on the spending commonly needed by NASA for launches.
Apparently I was incorrect on the second point, at least according to President Obama. He wants to see more private companies building rockets and ships whose primary purpose would be flights to the International Space Station. As much as I like the idea of the government getting to spend a little less, I’m highly skeptical that more than one or two companies can do this without the knowledge and manpower enjoyed by NASA. And $6 billion seems like a paltry amount for all of them to share. But I bet the country’s best math students would rather do this than work in finance.
Obama’s plan will also pour an unspecified number of billions into government rocket ships – I’m sorry, but that term just sounds funny to me. Imagine the White House Press Corps traveling around on Space Force One or whatever they’d call it. But, no, these ships would be used for trips to places other than the moon: asteroids, Mars, Mars’s moons. You know, the universe beyond what this planet owns.
Let’s face it, the above places are much more worth exploring than a place American astronauts have already visited six times. If migration is a factor in this at all, you can’t rely on a single moon that is considerably smaller than the Earth. And what would they really be doing on the moon these days? According to my dad, who has followed space missions since he was five, it’s like going to Vegas once a year and never bothering with the rest of the world.
Perhaps the most important element of the plan is an extention of the International Space Station’s life (where all the really important stuff is happening) by five years. Nobody appears to be arguing with that, and why should they? But a trio of famed American lunar explorers – Neil Armstrong and two other guys – is arguing primarily against the cancellation of the moon mission. You wonder if anyone, besides Buzz Aldrin himself (and my dad, shockingly enough), would side with the president over them.
I’m ambivalent about the private rockets, but if Armstrong and the two other guys are serious about keeping the moon mission, could they explain why it would be better than leadership elsewhere? There’s more to space than a dead rock.