Are we done with space exploration?
Discover blog reports on rumors that the Obama administration is cutting funding for two rocket systems, eliminating any possibility of going to the moon again, as a step toward an eventual mission to Mars.
This is in addition to the end of the Shuttle program, which has forced American astronauts to hitch rides to the International Space Station from Russia.
Says the Discover blog:
And finally, space exploration is important. I find it difficult to believe Obama doesn't know that; he's proven himself to be both pro-science and understanding of the inspiration it provides. And the rumor is that this year's budget for NASA actually goes up a little bit, it just cuts Constellation and Ares. But if this really does gut NASA's future, cutting way back on what they can do, then it's a mistake.
Is it important? For clues, we might look to the United States' fastest gaining global competitors. India today announced its first manned space mission. It also plans a mission to Mars in 2030.
Maybe, that's not "our thing" anymore because of the sacrifice that exploring deeper space would take. "We estimated our odds (then) of not coming back at 1-in-70. Those are not very good odds," former astronaut John Grunsfeld of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore tells PhysOrg.com. "It only gets worse as you go further out."
The time will come when we do manned exploration of the solar system. That time has just been moved back.
Disappointing news, nonetheless.
I would love to be on the first crew to Mars... even if it does take a year and a half to get there.
It seems to me that we have sufficient scientific challenges here on earth. In this time of scarce resources, it seems sensible to me to send our increasingly capable robots instead. Sending people increases the cost greatly. Let India go to the if they want to. For them, it's a matter of national pride. America has been there, done that.
During challenging economic times, it is difficult to convince the public of the merits of space exploration. Cancelling expensive NASA programs is a political move, forced by the reluctance of Congress to make tough decisions about balancing the budget. At some point voters will remember/realize that our investments in science & technology in the 50s and 60s produced enormous economic & quality of life gains in subsequent decades. We need to maintain those investments now, for the benefit of future generations, just as taxpayers in the 50s & 60s laid the groundwork for the technologies & quality of life we enjoy today.