NASA transferred on Thursday space shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Discovery logged more time and miles in space than any other craft capable of attaining orbit and returning its occupants to Earth in the course of its 39 missions and more than 365 days in space. Director of the museum John Dailey stated, “Discovery has distinguished itself as the champion of America’s shuttle fleet. In its new home, it will shine as an American icon, educating and inspiring people of all ages for generations to come. The museum is committed to teaching and inspiring youngsters, so that they will climb the ladder of academic success and choose professions that will help America be competitive and successful in the world of tomorrow.” One has to wonder which would be a greater inspiration, Discovery sitting behind velvet ropes strung between brass stands or thundering off the launch pad carrying the next generation of astronauts to the International Space Station and possibly to take part in building the dreams beyond. Perhaps had we continued our manned space program we would build the first all American Space Double Wheel Station just like those made famous in so many futuristic films or taking the materials to an American Space Dock where future space going vessels are being built. For the foreseeable future, if one wishes to see the American space program they will need to go to the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington DC and forget about the trip to Florida.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden also commented stating, “Today, while we look back at Discovery’s amazing legacy, I also want to look forward to what she and the shuttle fleet helped to make possible. As NASA transfers the shuttle orbiters to museums across the country, we are embarked on an exciting new space exploration journey.” His comments do beg a rather important and equally embarrassing question; exactly what exciting new space exploration journey is he referring to? A journey usually implies that the trip will include people and in 2010 President Obama quietly and with absolutely no fanfare cancelled the Constellation rocket and capsule program to take humans back into orbit and from there to the Moon. Since the last space shuttle mission and until somebody in the government gains a smidgen of foresight, the United States will be paying the now doubled price to Russia for our astronauts to hitch a ride to the International Space Station.
President Obama also cancelled the planned return trips to the Moon along with all plans to build a Moon Base claiming that we can leave such matters for private enterprise to address. How sorry will we be when we will need to pay the Russians to give us a ride to visit the Chinese Moon base which they are still intent on building, most likely with the money we pay them on our debt. President Obama also made reference to our landing on an asteroid sometime in the mid-2020s; of course it would need to wait for Obama to be long gone from office. We can also pretty much forget that idea of landing an American astronaut on Mars and even a distant plan to build a base on Mars as both of these missions relied on building the spacecraft and launching them from a Moon base. The reason President Obama gave for these decisions was that there was a far greater need to keep the funds here on Earth to help people rather than waste the funding on some distant dream. I had always thought dreaming of doing the impossible and then committing to doing it was an all-American trait.
But, is this excuse of saving all that funding to use here on Earth even close to the reality? Granted, when you think about billions of dollars, yes, with a ‘B’, it seems like a whole lot of money to most of us. I know I could live a very long time on just one billion dollars and NASA gets between three and five billion dollars a year. Wow, that should really pay for a lot of people here on Earth, right? Well, not so much. Despite the sound of the NASA budget, it makes up almost a whole one per cent of the budget. It actually averaged over the life of the entire space program approximately 0.75% of the budget. That means that for every $100.00 spent by the Federal Government, NASA actually gets a whole 75 cents, seventy-five whole pennies, until they do away with pennies, but that is for another day’s editorial. So, we now have set aside and saved $7,500.00 for every $1,000,000.00 spent. In real terms the NASA budget is a negligible portion of the Federal budget and could be increased 6.5 times over and would barely reach 5%, which is a small investment for both fulfilling the dreams of a nation and an avenue for research and development that likely will never be done at all until we come to our senses. If the Smithsonian Institute really wants to inspire children to become rocket scientists and the United States and her people also believe that would be a worthwhile investment, as I recall President Obama is very pro-investments by government, perhaps they might whisper into some of the power people who might have sufficient influence and suggest that an actual rocket launch and a real space program would be far more inspiring and effective for inspiring children to become rocket scientists. Anyways, where do these people think these inspired children will be employed once they become honest-to-goodness rocket scientists?
Beyond the Cusp