I was born mere days after Apollo 17, the last time that man would set footprints on the moon. I believe, firmly, that the U.S. will never go back. China? Maybe. India? There’s an outside chance. But the U.S.? We’re not going back. Not in my lifetime, and likely not ever.
This probably sounds weird, coming from a guy who has some faith in humanity and reads a lot of science fiction, but I really do believe my opening statement. And now comes the part where I explain myself:
1. I believe that with the current climate of political infighting, that nothing can be agreed-upon. It takes a political consensus to do really cool things like a space program. And here in the U.S., we simply do not have any sort of a consensus — on anything. The real leverage for the space program comes from Florida, Alabama, and Texas — sites where there are space centers and companies who build spacecraft.
2. I believe that Americans have become too practical and don’t dream enough. Sad, but true. When was the last time a business did something because it was the right thing to do, regardless of the financial impact? When was the last time someone you knew chased their dreams instead of taking the practical route? We’ve become too focused on the bottom line. This leads me to the next item.
3. I believe that Americans are too short-sighted. This is partly because of the election cycles — politicians want to keep their jobs, so their aim is to score political points in the short-term that they can use as ammunition in the next election. This means that no one will touch a long-term program like missions to the Moon and Mars. Additionally, there’s the “we have problems to solve here at home” bullshit. If that logic carried any weight, we’d all be living in caves, debating whether or not this new “fire” thing was worthwhile.
4. I believe that NASA is an extremely flawed organization, and that they have become just another channel of corporate welfare. (The other being the military procurement process.) When NASA takes perfectly good, affordable plans like Mars Direct and expands them to the point of impracticality, their motivations for doing so must be called into question. Thus, any large scale program operated by NASA is going to go over budget, exceed its planned timeline, and ultimately not live up to the original design specifications.
Any one of these items taken individually might be able to be overcome. However, I don’t believe that it is feasible to put aside all of these issues simultaneously.