Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To


Not the happiest blog post I'll ever construct. Indeed, after reading a few dozen articles about the Augustine commission yesterday, I was too bummed to write.

At the end of August, I posted about the 10-member U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, led by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine.

They were supposed to make an announcement on September 1st, but rather unceremoniously cancelled their last scheduled pow-wow and postponed the release of their report. Their projects-versus-budget discussions were public, so no one expected any miracles. Still, for people who are enthusiastic about off-Earth scientific exploration, the summary analysis was news we didn’t want to hear.

Augustine Committee
For the technically-minded, the full status report was published on SpaceRef. And I was also going to repeat the format of my previous post with a list of different reviews and opinions; I’ll give a nod to Keith Cowing instead, since he’s already compiled a fine press list over at NASA Watch.

So writes the committee: "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. Space operations are among the most complex and unforgiving pursuits ever undertaken by humans. It really is rocket science."

Mars or Bust
The report further states: "Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination."

What will it take for us to support a robust, visionary space program again? Russia or China passing us by? Back when the Soviets were kicking our yankee caboose at just about every space "first," it got tied into national pride with a sense of indignant determination. It’s no shock to me that science for the sake of science doesn’t bring in votes or money, but I also hate to think we can only do the right thing for our future when competitive threat, real or perceived, is breathing down our collective necks.

Of course, it wasn’t a complete cosmological buzzkill.

No one is saying outright that we can’t or won’t go to the Moon or Mars… and one encouraging excerpt is that "There are actually more options available today than in 1961 when President Kennedy challenged NASA and the nation."

True. It’s also emphasized that multiple nations have now made space exploration a global enterprise. International partnerships once thought impossible could strengthen ties both on Earth and in space. That’s no small accomplishment. Private companies may also lighten the load of space costs on governments.

Now more than ever it's time to encourage a whole new generation of geeklets. Math. Science. Space. Telescopes. Planetariums. Spreadsheet skills.

Meanwhile, still waiting on that Wonka Bar with the golden ticket.