Maybe someone should stick a copy of “The Right Stuff” into the DVD player on President Obama’s long flight back from his mission to Asia.
That inspirational movie about America’s first astronauts might help Obama make a decision about the future of manned space flight. A blue-ribbon panel has told him that the future will be bleak unless more money is spent.
In a recession, such an assessment would appear to be fatal. But some creative thinking might lead to a different conclusion.
With his mind on his whirlwind trip to Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul, Obama probably hasn’t had time to appreciate last week’s news that the presence of water on the moon has been confirmed. NASA purposely crashed two spacecraft into a crater at the moon’s south pole and kicked up debris that included ice and water vapor.
The discovery ironically came only months after former astronauts in the old Apollo program, which first sent men to the moon 40 years ago, had urged Obama to give up on plans to go back there and instead concentrate on a manned mission to Mars.
But there’s the cost. Perhaps seeking a better legacy, President George W. Bush began a program to return U.S. astronauts to the moon and to land a man on Mars by 2020. He didn’t give NASA much more money, though. And while Obama lauded manned space flight on the campaign trail, he hasn’t made a corresponding financial commitment.
Obama said that decision would be guided by a committee of experts he appointed. That panel reported in September that NASA would need at least $3 billion added to its annual budget of nearly $19 billion to achieve Bush’s goals. It gave Obama other options, including extending the life of the space shuttle fleet, which is scheduled to be retired next year.
Of course, the shuttles can’t travel out to deep space. The Space Station, however, does provide another model for Obama that he should consider.
Although largely a U.S. enterprise, the Space Station has been an international effort, with various nations providing components, crew and scientists. If cost is the primary obstacle to moon and Mars missions that might provide scientific discoveries beneficial to all mankind, then why shouldn’t that endeavor, like the Space Station, be international?