Having read "Go Somewhere," I must say bravo! It's about time someone told NASA they're using tax payer money for repetitive missions and unoriginal ideas. It seems that fewer and fewer children are interested in becoming astronauts, something that should scare NASA. NASA has also forgotten that unless research improves a person's life, whether by pandering to their patriotism (a trip to Mars) or their wallets (a cheap new fuel), they couldn't care less about it. After all, as the movie Contact put it so well, "What's wrong with science being profitable?"
West Chester, OH
In the mid-1960's I asked my grandfather what he thought of the space program. He replied that it was a terrible waste of money, and that they could better use their resources to control the Mississippi river. At the time I thought he was old and didn't understand. But all we've received from 40 years of space exploration are fancy sound systems and faster computers. Fun but quite needless. Turns out it is we who don't understand.
There are several reasons why NASA is off track:
1. It got so involved in safety that it feared to take any risks whatsoever.
2. NASA talks about going to Mars, but such an endeavor without an experimental colony on the moon is not very smart.
3. The US turned inward, partly because Russia quit, partly because politics turned radically conservative. Our government could have set aside money for science and space but turned instead towards accumulation of individual and corporate wealth. This is evidenced by the make-up of Congress, the bias in the tax laws, and the separation of our population into the "haves" and "have-nots."
I agree that NASA needs a mission, something more exciting and longer reaching than the mundane International Space Station. However, I do not believe that bureaucrats will universally accept any mission NASA proposes. NASA's quest for the moon was a direct result of the perceived challenge by the Russian space program. In other words, it came from outside NASA and it was taken up by this country as a challenge to beat our competitors.
You cannot convince somebody with other spending priorities that Mars isn't a boondoggle with no clear benefit. We can say that NASA will protect our civilization from being destroyed by an asteroid, but the artists will say that without funding art programs, our civilization is not worth saving.
Perhaps we need to find that asteroid before going before congress.
I agree with the seven steps outlined in "Go Somewhere." I would add that our great American free enterprise system should step in as a partner, and provide the manpower to explore the last frontier. It worked for our forefathers in the discovery of America. Back then, however, no one knew what was beyond the distant horizon. Today we know what's out there, and little by little we're coming to grips with the many obstacles that threaten our quest. We'll get there, and Dawn Stover's seven ideas should keep us on track.
Every couple of years someone comes up with the bright idea that NASA will be great again if it goes to Mars. Look what happened after we landed on the moon: we abandoned it. Then we built the space shuttle-an unsafe vehicle that costs more than the Saturn V-and a space station that is years behind schedule and billions over budget. NASA is without a single vision. I agree that NASA should participate in national security, but I think there is a better way to get the agency going again. Here are some suggestions:
1. A 100% reusable and reliable space plane to carry 6-8 astronauts to and from the space station.
2. Bring back the shuttle-C-an unmanned cargo vehicle to launch heavy payloads into low Earth orbit.
3. Develop a "Shuttle Applications Program" similar to the Apollo Program. For example, the space shuttle's external tank is a great resource that is simply thrown away and could be utilized for many projects.
4. A lunar north-pole base. The location provides resources such as continuous solar power and ice. This base would also have many varied programs such as mining, and helium3 sources. Sample return missions could be built, controlled and returned safely from all over the solar system and for less money. The list is endless for moon-based research.
These ideas can be done now with today's technology and within NASA's budget, but we will go nowhere if NASA continues to spend billions on new technologies hoping it will somehow rescue itself. The technology to do all these things and go to mars is there, but the leadership is not. I still support NASA and feel it is vital to our nations' survival.
Dennis J. O'Neill
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.