Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Moon Shot

Other posts are in the works, but I thought I'd take a minute to do some navel-gazing on a timely post about going back to the moon.

Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Eugene Cernan have published a strong critique of President Obama's NASA budget that stops funding the Constellation program.  In so doing, the US's only option to get to outer space means hitching a ride on the Russian's Soyuz platform ... and Russia just doubled the per-seat cost from $25 million to $50 million. (Hey, they know when they've got the market cornered!)  The three astronauts opine that:
For the United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond earth orbit for an indeterminate amount of time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.

Strong words from truly admirable men.  They mourn the fact that we're basically abandoning the roughly $10 billion that has been spent on Constellation so far.


In my humble opinion, I do not think the Administration is out on a limb here.  The Augustine report from October 2009 (careful, that's a few megabyte pdf, but worth every electron) starts out by saying the following:
The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory.  It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.

I can't possibly put it better.  Yes, I truly lament the fact that we're not pursuing the Constellation program and all that it could stand for.  But the $10 billion wasn't just wasted -- it has supported thousands and thousands of hardworking and dedicated engineers for a long time, and furthered the maturity of whatever program comes next.  What I'm afraid Messrs. Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan do not recognize is that the Constellation program will require an estimated $97 billion to complete.  The Augustine Report got that.

Again, without the fear of the Soviets driving us to the moon, there will be no justification for that kind of expenditure in today's budget-minded world.

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