Monday, September 26, 2005

When the Moon hits your wallet like a big pizza pie

Bob Park [*] has an editorial in Thursdays NY Times about the unnecessary manned space program to re-land on the Moon. I have to agree. Bush proposed this venture as part of his program to get men on Mars, and utterly pointless endevour. Sure, Big Grand Projects capture the imagination and make us, as a nation, feel big and important and manly. But those Big Grand Projects come with a Bigger, Grander Budget, and if we're going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars and almost undoubtedly the lives of a few people to send some astronauts to the Moon and to Mars, there had dammned well better be a better reason than it will be a bold vision for our future.

From Park's editorial:

This week NASA described plans to return astronauts to the Moon in 2018 at a cost of $104 billion. That's nine years after President Bush leaves office. Starting from scratch in 1961, President Kennedy's commitment to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth was realized in just eight years. What is going on?...

Two mechanical geologists, Spirit and Opportunity, are doing this even now, by searching for evidence of water on opposite sides of Mars. They don't break for lunch or complain about the cold nights, and they live on sunshine. They've been at it for nearly two years, yet their mission costs less than sending a shuttle to the International Space Station. The brains of Spirit and Opportunity are the brains of geologists back on Earth.

I'm no Luddite saying space exploration is a waste of money that could be better spent here on earth; heck, my first post-college job was working to build the International Space Station. But the ISS is now basically without a science mission, and has scaled back due to the inflating budget and the destruction of the Columbia. What little science it does do doesn't require a permanent manned presence in space. Much, if not all, of it could be done just as well in unmanned probes, or perhaps on the remaining Shuttle.

We need a good reason to go there in person first, then we are justified in spending a lot of money.

[*] If you haven't read Park's weekly newsletter What's New, I strongly suggest that you subscribe. It's pretty much always about science, but is accessible to any reader, and written with a dry wit that just cracks me up.

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