Will NASA ever have a post-Apollo/post-shuttle prom date? Is NASA’s destiny constrained to renting a ride to the ISS in the nearly unending go-round-in-circles of low earth orbit? The ISS is like taking your prom date to hang out at the mall because you lack the cash and/or imagination to do anything better.
European Space Agency (to NASA): Dude. Got a date for the space prom yet?
NASA: Dude. I am so broke. But I’m thinking about going to an asteroid.
ESA: An asteroid?! How are you gonna pull that off?
NASA: Uh… Wishful thinking?
From an Aerospace America piece synopsizing the end of the space shuttle era:
What seems lacking now is only a catalog of accomplishments, to show all that we have learned from this massive endeavor, and how that knowledge can pay off in our daily lives.
Couldn’t have said it better myself, even if I did.
So what should be the specific goal for the U.S. manned space program? It should be to get back to the moon (generating pride, interest, and pushing the existing manned space performance envelope) for the purpose of learning how to use the moon’s resources to make life better here on earth.
Back to Aerospace America:
…it will be very difficult to drum up excitement for the next-generation system without a destination that seems worthy of the time and treasure, both human and monetary, that will have to be expended to see it to completion.
The President’s stated plan, to land on an asteroid by 2025, reeks of the desperation of an oxygen-deprived junior speechwriter facing a brutal deadline. As USA Today offered in 2010,
The moon is 240,000 miles away. A trip to an asteroid would be 5 million miles — at a minimum.
So is NASA all dressed up with nowhere to go? It seems more likely that NASA hasn’t even gotten a date to the prom, let alone rented its tux, set up the limo, made the dinner reservations, or arranged the financing such an effort would require.
Restated, will NASA go round in circles or will it fly high like bird up in the sky?