…Continuing my fictional interview with the next NASA administrator:
Should the U.S. stay committed to human exploration of deep space?
No job at NASA will be tougher or more important than communicating to President Obama’s new team the economic and national security benefits of maintaining our leadership in space exploration. We are already at the forefront of robotic exploration of the solar system and the universe. What is in doubt today is our continued leadership in sending human explorers into Earth-Moon space and beyond.
I am concerned that the new administration’s tepid campaign endorsement of America’s human exploration goals may eclipse five years of bipartisan endorsement of returning Americans to deep space. Unfortunately, that support came without the necessary funds. President Bush’s budget decisions and recent congressional continuing resolutions have sapped momentum from NASA’s Orion development. Suggestions of a wholesale reordering of our exploration priorities call into question not just Orion’s delivery, but America’s determination to lead in space.
In a leadership vacuum, other forward-looking nations will step up to reap the prestige and economic rewards that flow from demonstrated prowess in spaceflight. We cannot argue successfully that our Apollo achievements forty years ago ensures leadership today. If we are surpassed in human exploration, perhaps by another nation circumnavigating or landing on the Moon, America will have clearly ceded its leadership. As then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson pointed out in 1961, “Failure to master space means being second in every aspect…In the eyes of the world first in space means first, period; second in space is second in everything.”
A public commitment to lead is of first importance. We must state that NASA’s goal is to send explorers back into deep space at the earliest opportunity. The destination can be the Moon or nearby asteroids, preferably both, with Mars the long-term goal. President Obama’s public confirmation of these goals, chosen after Columbia’s devastating loss, would be the most vivid illustration that America will continue to lead. We should welcome partners in our quest, but never such alliances to determine when—or whether–we will explore deep space. That means committing to doing the job, if necessary, by ourselves. President Kennedy said in 1962 that “…our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort…”
Disclaimer — This interview is fictional and represents only the views of the author.– Disclaimer.
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