Not in My Lifetime

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.

3 thoughts on “Not in My Lifetime”

  1. I’m not as pessimistic as you are. When Bush first proposed the Constellation/Orion program, I was kind of excited (and upset that I was supporting anything that Bush did). But then when it became clear that the goal was to land on the moon by 2020, I was underwhelmed to say the least.

    The new plan has the potential for a lot of exciting and truly revolutionary things (and it doesn’t preclude a Mars Direct type of mission) but it will depend on how NASA fleshes out the details. The only immediate first goal is the development of a heavy-lift rocket, which we won’t have once the Shuttle retires.

    Of course, the companies that have Constellation/Orion contracts are going to try to keep those projects alive. But many, if not all, of those same companies will be the ones making the heavy lift rocket.

    It is hard to be optimistic about anything that requires an act of Congress these days. But, there is a chance for NASA to do some inspiring work here. It’s whether they’ll step up to the challenge or not.

    • I had the same gut response to Constellation/Orion — I like the idea, but I hated that it was a Bushie project.

      I’m not sure what the best solution is right now, truth be told. If you look at the amounts that the various launch platforms can throw, building systems like the Ares I doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

      System, Lift to LEO (in tons)
      Ares I, 27.5
      Space Shuttle, 26.5
      Delta IV Heavy, 28
      Atlas V, 32
      Saturn V, 131
      Ares V, 210

      From what I can ascertain using my Google-Fu, it would make more sense to ditch the Ares I and focus on getting a man-rating for the Delta IV Heavy or the Atlas V, both of which have a decent safety record. (The Atlas V has one failure and the payload was in a lower-than-intended orbit. D4H has also had one failure that also made orbit, albeit an incorrect one.) Then start building the Ares V as a heavy launcher — a platform that would enable a Mars Direct baseline mission.

  2. I’m as pessimistic, but interestingly my pessimism leads me to a different conclusion. We’ll go back. We’ll fund a huge-ass space program. And we’ll do it because we’re fucking up the earth. It’ll be out of necessity, not dreaming, but we’ll do it.

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