On Monday U.S. President Barack Obama officially released his policy for the nation’s space program, a 14-pager that backs up what many media outlets have been covering as the likely direction for NASA and beyond.
- cooperate with other governments on Earth- and sun-monitoring satellites that feed us vital data on climate change and space weather;
- find ways to temper the risks from space junk;
- extend the International Space Station’s lifetime through 2020;
- retire the space shuttles by 2011, and contract with Russia for flights aboard the Soyuz;
- back commercial spaceflight operations; and
- send astronauts to explore Mars by the mid-2030s.
The Obama space plan might not come as much of a surprise to many folk. For a while now there has been a storm of opinions on spending tax-payer money on Russian tech, the scientific value of the ISS, and even whether the sun is impacting Earth’s climate (for, and against).
A false-color picture highlights outcrops of magnesium iron carbonate on Mars, as seen by the Spirit rover.
—Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
But one of the biggest sticking points has definitely been the death of the Constellation program, former President G.W. Bush’s plan for sending humans back to the moon.
Proponents say the moon is a vital stepping stone for establishing humans in space–it’s relatively close, it’s got water (and lots of it), and we have a proven track record with successful lunar landings. Build a moon base, prove we can scale up, then use the moon as a jumping-off point for trips deeper into the solar system.
Opponents say no matter the intention, the original plan simply didn’t include a big enough budget to realistically get humans to the moon. And even if Constellation did get the right funding, going back to the moon would just prove we can do now what we did 40 years ago. It’s not progress.
Skipping the moon doesn’t scrub U.S. involvement in human spaceflight. Instead, Obama chose to go with a new focus: Put humans on an asteroid, and from there, on Mars.
As for step one, there’s a bunch of reasons for going to an asteroid, both exploratory and scientific.
And getting humans to Mars? That will be a challenge, but one that would really light some serious fires in the public arena.
A friend recently turned me on to a website for a project called Symphony of Science, which is “designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form.”
In a word, genius.
Just a few weeks ago the project leader, Washington State composer/producer John Boswell, posted the sixth installment of the symphony, aptly titled “The Case for Mars.” Nice timing, eh?