He did it! He Really Did it!!
President Bush yesterday set forth a program to go to the moon and Mars.
Now, I'm a little skeptical about NASA managing anything but this, it seems to me, is a pretty good program.
In the late '50s the Eisenhower administration set up a program to logically develop space. Before Kennedy's moon speech, the US civilian space program was moving towards building up infrastructure and exploring the solar system in incremental steps.
Apollo changed all that, and NASA tossed virtually everything that wasn't directly related to getting a man on the moon, from spaceplanes to ion drives to nuclear engines to atomic pogosticks and space stations.
As the Apollo program wound down, the Nixon Administration tried to figure out how to use the hardware of Apollo to carry on the actual space program and came up with a program somewhat similar to the one Bush proposed yesterday. The big differences were that Apollo hardware, designed under a cost is no object basis, was really expensive though the Saturn series rockets were an awesome and vital capability, and the space shuttle was developed to be a workhorse launcher.
Only a gutted shuttle (the original was a two stage fully reusable design) got past congress and it was so compromised that it actually cost far more than the Apollo hardware to launch. Even a full up Saturn 5 being launched to the moon and thrown away cost less than the launching of a Space shuttle.
Reagan was preoccupied (understandably) by the brinkmanship of the last days of the cold war. However even he proposed the Space Station as a stepping stone to build up space infrastructure.
Bush1 proposed an effort very similar to the one his son put forth....but NASA declared that it would cost half a trillion dollars.....NASA threw all of their pet projects into the effort and then had a bureaucrat expense orgy....Congress, the controlled by Mondale democrats was not enthusiastic about space anyway. The Space Exploration initiative was DOA.
The Space station morphed under the direction of NASA bureaucrats, from a construction shack and launching point for deep space exploration and colonization to a big international space lab...that can't really do space science very well....and it is now in an orbit that is very inconvenient for interplanetary or GSO launches. Of course the Russians are renting out love hotel rooms with their section :)
The program proposed by Bush is agonizingly slow for those of us who have seen our birthright pissed away....but if it doesn't get nixed....it is sustainable and will build up infrastructure so our children can go into space. Indeed this is the program that we should have had 10.... or 30 years ago. Had we done this modest program and kept it up, the today instead of the legacy of NASA being six flags left on the moon...we might be contemplating a Six Flags on the Moon.
I'm very hopeful that this passes congress. Once there is a base on the Moon or Mars, private industry and even homesteaders will be able to follow. The big gap may be a feature and not a bug anyway, several private launch initiatives are close to bearing fruit so they may provide the ships. Had a crash program been mooted investors would have been driven away from launch vehicle proposals, just as they were in the early 60s the early 70s and late 80s.
Douglas Chrysler and others were all designing reusable or very cheap methods to get to orbit. But they all ran afoul of a NASA program like the Space Shuttle or Venture Star that promised to do it all on the taxpayers dime. On company, Amroc, was wiped out when, just as they stared to offer commercial launch sevices, NASA had a sale on shuttle rates!
I've heard a lot of grumbling from experts, that this is just more NASA and that the future is commercial space. This is not without some merit and as they have seen the beast up close, I sympathize, but I feel they are missing the point...
Lewis and Clark paved the way for the development of the west, Cook, Perry and Bouganville opened up the Pacific, and a logical space program will give our children a toehold on the heavens. That it was not done in time for us is sad, but I am overjoyed that for the first time since I was a kid, it looks like humanity really is on its way to the stars....and that's a DAMMNED good thing.