Beyond the Cusp

July 9, 2011

Last Shuttle Mission, Last Manned Mission Forever?

This morning I watched the launch of the last Shuttle Mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida, part of the Kennedy Space Center. It was a normal and trouble free launch, thank G-d. What made it special was that currently the United States has no plans to return man to space. President Obama has cancelled the Constellation program that was the United States plan to return man to the Moon by 2020. His new plan is for NASA to concentrate more on pure research and to get out of the rocket making business and instead rely on renting use of private systems which he claims will be more productive. Well, maybe, but do we really want to rely on the existence of private systems being ready by the time we need them? Maybe his idea is to rely on the European, Russian, Japanese, Israeli, or possibly the nascent but improving Iranian rockets to launch American payloads.

This is a definitive step to erase a major area of American exceptionalism, something we all know President Obama finds offensive and repugnant. Is this a price worth paying just to usher in an age of American mediocrity? President John F Kennedy’s dream defined American exceptionalism when on September 12, 1962 during his speech given at Rice University in Houston, Texas he stated, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” This speech, in its own way, set the standard for the next period of American exceptionalism. President Obama has decided to cancel such American exceptionalism.

Looking back over the great period of exploration from Europe in finding and colonizing the New World and a pattern emerges exemplifying a tried and true method for success. This path depends upon exceptional men with idealistic and seemingly impossible dreams and the drive and commitment to go to great lengths to complete their dreams. It also takes money. Often, the people with the drive, dreams, and visions are not the ones with the money and the men with the money are not easily swayed to part with it on the promises of a dream. When we look at the period of exploration and settlement of the New World, we find a definitive pattern. The initial voyages into what was then the unknown were financed by Kings, Queens, Parliaments and all forms of governance. These expeditions set the paths and proved the means for reaching the New World. This was much like our initial trips to the Moon. The next steps in the European explorations of the New World were the setting up of the first colonies, the first bases of operations. It was not until after the initial infrastructures were in place and proof of wealth to be made did the so-called private ventures began. It just might be wise to follow a proven method and actually have government, even if it takes a cooperative venture, though I would prefer a purely American project thus assuring we need nobody else’s permissions, limitations, influences, or whatever corruptions might be insisted upon, and put in place the actual Moon Base, Large Earth and Moon Orbiting Stations and Docking Bays in which we would have facilities for building larger interplanetary craft, and hopefully further craft sometime in the future, both for government programs initially and for use by private ventures once bases are in place. Putting it in simple language, it is necessary for the building of the initial bases and other necessities to be provided by government to assure that once private ventures are undertaken, there is no need for duplications and no disputes over usage of bases and space platforms. Depending on private ventures to build these necessities could lead to undesirable consequences. For example, if McDonald-Douglass builds a spaceport with facilities for the construction of larger interplanetary and even interstellar craft, does anyone really believe they would allow Boeing to use it whenever they wished? With government owned facilities, then everybody could schedule usage times and if they wanted their own, there would be nothing preventing them building such. Should that become desirable that each company wants to build their own, they would be greatly assisted having a government base to use as a staging platform which would lower their costs thus encouraging such ventures. That is the basic argument for government building a Moon Base, Mars Base, and orbiting platforms for dockings and craft constructions.

The last point is that NASA has already made the initial plans for using the Moon Base that President Obama cancelled to facilitate the building of a Mars Base far less complicated. Another thing is that having an American Moon Base would be a point of real pride for the United States and, as the International Space Station has proven, a solely American Base would meet whatever standards considered either vital, needful, or preferable. I still regret that the United States decided to allow the space station to become a compromise station build by consensus of committee that included Russia, Europe and whoever else partnered, yet the United States still had to either build or pay for the construction of most of the modules. Look at what we call the ISS and how does it compare to your ideas of a real, comfortable, livable, and well-designed space station. When I think space station, I see a double wheel rotating to produce comfortable 1G environment where future passengers would offload from an Earth launched vehicle to board a space built interplanetary cruiser which will transport them to another identical base around the planet, or moon, of their destination. OK, so I’m a bit of a dreamer, but if we do not start to build such necessary hardware, it will not become less expensive with time, it will only slowly appear to slowly become cost prohibitive. It is the same as building roads and bridges, if we plan on three lanes each direction, time and again it has been proven that we should have built five or more lanes in each direction which is extremely more expensive and inconvenient when we add those lanes at a later date. Space will prove no different.

For those who will scream that it is already beyond our budgetary capabilities, one small reminder is that since 1969, the NASA budget has never been more than 1% of the budget and has usually leveled out at around 0.75% of budget. Now tell me how we are spending way too much on the space program. There is a reason why whenever they report the NASA budget, they give it in dollars and why I use percentage of total budget. This is a rule you can use on every single announcement made by government and those reporting, complaining, or pleading in favor of government expenditures. If they want to make it sound horribly expensive or a waste of funds, then they will use actual dollars, if they wish to minimize the amount spent and justify, as I just did, they will use percentage. Billions of dollars sound like an unbelievable amount to spend on anything, but what is a mere percentage under five. The truth be told, $40 billion equals approximately 1% of the budget. See how nicely that works? Which sound like more spending, $40 Billion or about 1%? I thought so.

Beyond the Cusp

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