Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ahead of the Curve


This has been the most scatter-brained week I've had since that kid with the surname "Archuleta" was on American Idol. (So many people asked me if I was related to him, I was tempted to just start saying "Yes. When I go to the family gathering at Christmas, I'll tell him you said hello.")

My sleep schedule is wonky now from staying up all hours waiting on the Shuttle launch, and so much space news is coming at us, I suspect most NASA employees are praying for a snow day. For the first time, I wish I hadn't given up caffeine.

At this very moment, I am watching numerous tweeters give live quotes, updates and audience reactions to Charlie Bolden's speech at the Marshall Space Flight Center – a repeat of meetings already held at Kennedy and Johnson.

Seems he's on tour now... trying to dispel the notion that Human Space-Flight (HSF) has become summarily extinct. However, I never thought that. I don’t think anybody did; we simply weren't thrilled about slowed timelines, losing technological edge and current projects being dismissed in a rather insulting manner. (I keep picturing dazed rocket scientists wandering around a hangar, saying, "What did I just spend the last decade of my life on??")

Charles Bolden - Houston Chronicle
Today, the Houston Chronicle reported the "personal vision" Charles Bolden is orating in these all-hands meetings, noting that he will soon visit Congress to explain his plans. I’m glad to see this, because Obama has about a thousand migraines to deal with in his budget; Bolden should only have one.

Granted, he also faces inherent aspirin-popping potential on every NASA side issue, but he's defending his hard-working masses, and not backing down on Mars as the main goal. I personally think the moon would have been a safer "learning curve" stopover, but it appears I am in a shrinking minority...

"I don't see us colonizing the moon as some people do," Bolden said. "That's not NASA's job. Our job is to explore."

Fair enough. My only real groan came with the statement, "...the 2030s were viable if given a reasonable and sustained budget." Define reasonable and sustained. Sustained for how long? Through a presidential term and then re-evaluated? We're getting a bit weary of that.

However, in my own little circles, I hear talk that ground-based research may be given much higher priority in the coming years as a result. That might be very good news for some people and projects I care greatly about, very close to home.

SIMULATIONS, it seems, are the cheaper answer to leap-frogging over a working lunar base, and while I’d still be heartbroken to see Constellation so wastefully incinerated, I suspect the powers-that-be will be forced to follow the money – if they hope to pocket any of it.

Planetary Society
Click for Space Flight Simulation Study interview

Interestingly, The Planetary Society, a pro-space organization who interviewed me last year, supports this vision, and all the requisite research that comes with it -- even if it means skipping the moon.

Bolden has a hard-sell ahead, and may have to do some fast-talking to unconvinced members of Congress. I'm not envying anyone on the Ares teams right now, given the sudden flux their lives have been thrown into, but I shouldn't overlook the bright spot in my own backyard.

The projects closest to my heart will be shown to be relevant and ahead of the curve, being awarded both new monies and increased focus. We’ll take all the silver linings we can get right about now.