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Delusion on a Solar Scale

Sept 17 2003
By Marc Freedman

The Columbia crash was tragic, the fallout from analysts, press, and politicians mocking. They attack NASA, call for reform, and question the agency's vision. It's Delusion on a Solar Scale.

None of this is surprising. Post-Apollo, ever since the 70s the drive to space has been castrated by US administrations of both parties. Budgets have continually been slashed so they only support minimal projects that maintain the current shuttle fleet and limited unmanned exploration. The government thinks nothing about $200 billion to conquer and rebuild a third world country. But it balks at more money for NASA, an investment that has and will demonstrate enormous returns to the country, and that will pave the way for commercial development and unprecedented economic growth.

NASA appears conservative, low cost, and unimaginative ... because that's exactly what the government has made it. The politicians want a babysitter, not a leader.

The shuttles are exactly what the cheap government paid for. They are incredible but far from what they could have been. The complicated 20 year old technology is marginally safe and expensive to operate because the government only authorized a limited design when it was developed and has never approved the funding for a next generation of space launch and orbiter vehicles.

Imagine the airlines begin forced to fly Boeing 707s, or you having to drive a Pinto.

Rocketing up into the void was never supposed to be safe. Not with the direction and funding that the government has provided. All astronauts know the risks and are actively engaged in shuttle operations. We lose soldiers every day who play police in Iraq. Nobody pays attention. We lose a few people in a shuttle and politicos have to grandstand and convene a national study.

Instead of burying our head further in the sand, we should be taking more risks, not less. Our vaunted superior American technology, drive, and know how has been coasting since Apollo. NASA works with the best and brightest and has shown what it can do with stunning interplanetary probes. Given the chance, it would gladly take us to Mars and beyond.

It's only a matter of will.

For more, read this excellent space.com commentary - NASA Has a Vision, It's Our Nation That Needs Glasses




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