Vision for Future Space Missions
November 26, 2012
I am 66 years old and have been an advocate of space exploration all my life. I became captivated with Sputnik in 1957, the Moon landings in the late sixties and early seventies, Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, et al. I'm currently fascinated with Hubble, Kepler and Curiosity and look forward to more of the same (New Horizons, James Webb). However, as I've grown older (and hopefully wiser) I've begun to question the need for humans in space, at least at this time or in the near future. We've been sending humans into space for over 50 years and still don't have a clear vision of what to do there! I was happy to see the Shuttle program retire and President Obama terminate the Constellation project. Just when I thought NASA was on the right track and money would be freed up for more exploratory missions and research, they decided to go ahead with the SLS to ferry humans to asteroids and maybe Mars, what a shame! The President feels that we can only inspire young minds in science and engineering by sending humans into space. I believe he is mistaken and this outdated thinking dates back to the sixties when the US found itself behind the Russians in the space race. Sending humans to the Moon was done purely for political not scientific reasons. Is NASA's mission colonization or exploration? Even if it were colonization (which I don't believe it is) I think it's premature to send humans to Mars in the near future. Where would we land (mars surface area is about the same as Earth’s dry land) and what would we do once landed? Turn over rocks in the hopes of finding moss or algae or maybe a scorpion like creature? Or maybe chip away at a rock outcrop in hopes of finding a fossil, please!!! [Sorry for being so cynical] We need to do more robotic exploration and sample returns before even thinking about going there. I believe in more practical projects such as earlier detection of planet threatening objects and ways of defending ourselves against them if possible, determining the contribution humans make to global warming and when will we reach a tipping point (or have we already?), determine why Mars and Venus ended up the way they did and hopefully use that knowledge to avoid the same fate. I also have a personal interest in knowing if life (as we know it) has ever started and evolved on other planets (or moons) and "are we alone" in the Universe. I'm not sure the public shares this interest as it raises too many spiritual questions? As for funding these projects, we spend more on defense then the next 17 countries combined. Is this really necessary, do we feel that threatened? Also just recently the Defense Department acknowledged that they had a spare “Hubble Like” telescope (optics only) lying around! I’m not sure what was done with it but it begs the question, how much more excess equipment do they have? Finally while I would like to see projects like the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) and others, for the money I’d rather see President Obama commit the US to finding a cure for Cancer and/or Heart Disease before the end of this decade much like President Kennedy did for putting a human on the Moon.
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.