Contribution for the Forum section of The Planetarian

Quarterly Journal of the International Planetarium Society
Vol. 54, No. 2, June 2005

 

 

 

 

Question: How realistic is President Bush’s new Space Initiative? Will astronaut safety issues hold NASA back from achieving the initiative’s stated goals of establishing a base on the Moon and Mars, or will it forge ahead and view this as its new reason for being, for which the Agency has been searching these last few decades?

 

 

Will American astronauts go back to the Moon within the next twenty years? Despite the huge cost, I am sure that, somehow, Congress will make sure Americans return to the Moon before the Chinese and other foreign powers reach the Moon. Yes, we have another “Space Race.”

 

Will American astronauts reach Mars within a decade or two thereafter? Considering the price tag of such a mission, I doubt it. The official line will be that there are “delays.” In reality, without pressure from a “Space Race” to Mars (as no other power could afford to even think about sending people to Mars), Congress will not be willing to provide the additional funding necessary for such a mission anytime in the foreseeable future.

 

Having the future of space exploration depend on political “space races” is not the way for mankind to reach out into outer space. And the costs of the current NASA initiative, including the shutting-down of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Voyager missions to the edge of the Solar System, are pennywise and pound-foolish!

 

NASA has had many successes over the last 45 years—and some setbacks, as all human endeavors experience setbacks, from time-to-time. However, no one nation, or even group of nations, can commit the amount of public resources to aggressively move mankind into space, as I believe needs to be done. This is particularly true in a pluralistic democracy, with many competing interests.

 

The very limited public funding available should be spent to maximize the benefits of the existing space infrastructure, including Hubble, Voyagers, and the International Space Station. The taxpayers have already made huge investments in this infrastructure. This infrastructure should not be cast-aside or completely abandoned. Abandoning valuable infrastructure is not conservative, in the true definition of the word!

 

Mankind desperately needs to aggressively move into outer space, and not just for exploration. As the world population continues increasing, and resources to support that population continue dwindling, we need to find new resources, out there, to support the people on our planet.

 

I would also argue that the government should commit some resources to promote an aggressive, manned, commercial space program. Yes, this past-year’s success of SpaceShipOne, and the prospect of a Space Tourism industry, is a good first step. But, we need to go much farther than Space Tourism.

 

In the mid-nineteenth century, when Congress wanted to develop the American West, they enacted specific incentives to such development: Railroad Land Grant Act of 1850 and the Homestead Act of 1862. To make similar incentives for outer space development will probably require the amending, or complete rewriting, of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (which is vague on commercial space activities). Without a new or amended space treaty designed for the needs of the twenty-first century, which provides for property rights on celestial bodies, outer space development will continue to lag.

 

And, a successful, aggressive, manned, commercial space program would actually increase scientific access to outer space. So long as there is a government near-monopoly on manned space exploration, the costs of manned scientific exploration of space will remain high, and a government bureaucracy will decide which scientists go into space and which cannot.

 

With a successful, aggressive, manned commercial space program, over time the price for human access to space will come down. And, eventually, even planetarians will be able to afford to go into space (and I do not mean just a suborbital tourist flight), and perhaps even conduct their own independent research in space!

 

Glenn A. Walsh

Planetarium Lecturer 1988-1991

Observatory Coordinator 1986-1991

original Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh

 

2005 April 8

 

gaw

Also see: Walsh, Glenn A. "NASA Strategic Direction Study: Glenn Walsh's Public Comments." Blog Posting.
SpaceWatchtower 2012 Aug. 18.

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