Two recent commentary articles stand as examples of attempts to avoid confronting the three things that has hobbled NASA’s space program in recent years, which is to say lack of leadership, lack of direction, and especially a lack of money.
In an October 15, 2013 op-ed in the Washington Times, Joshua Jacobs, who is a founding member of something called the Conservative Futures Project, had a somewhat outside the box solution. He proposes to cancel the heavy lift Space Launch System and then pursue some unspecified “commercial” solutions to getting American astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.
“It is high time for a change, and a good place to start would be canceling an out-of-control Space Launch System. With SLS canceled, we could extend new launch contracts to private companies that actually compete for those contracts and have to contend with pricing pressure that force them to give the taxpayer the best value for his dollar. Most importantly, canceling SLS could refocus our efforts on new projects chosen by scientists not legislators — not to mention freeing up money for, you know, actually going to space.”
There are a couple of problems with this paragraph. Industry sources state flatly that far from being “out of control” the SLS is five months ahead of schedule. Also the Congress mandated the building of the heavy lift launcher based on the recommendations of the Second Augustine Commission, a recommendation NASA and the Obama administration chose to ignore. In a previous paragraph, Jacobs lamented the demise of the Constellation program, which had its own budget and schedule problems and featured a heavy lift launcher called the Ares V.
Meanwhile former astronaut Leroy Chiao, in an October 15, 2013 piece in Space.com, notes that while the Chinese space program is forging ahead, the American space effort in floundering. He warns that at some point China will become the world’s space leader and America would take second place. But his solution too is somewhat outside the box.
“What can Americans do to stop this? Invite China to the table. America can, and should, lead the international coalition to explore space, both in low-Earth orbit and beyond. China publicly asked to join the ISS program in 2003, only to be rebuffed by the United States. Over the years, they have made repeated calls for joining NASA and the International partners. The Russians, Europeans and even the Canadians have called for bringing China into the partnership. There are political and technical reasons that having China as a partner could be a win-win-win for all. However, certain members of the U.S. Congress are dedicated to keeping China out, dooming the United States to continue its decline in human spaceflight.”
It is a curious example of calling to “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Chiao’s suggestion would simply formalize the process by which America declines and China rises, taking its place as the supreme space power.
A few decades ago, the American space program was considered to be in trouble and in danger of being relegated to second place by an unfriendly power. But an American president had a slightly different solution to that problem.
“With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides--time for a great new American enterprise--time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.
“I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.”
The reader will note that the president in question defined what was necessary, a clearly defined goal and the necessary resources to achieve that goal.
Of course that goal was beating the Soviets to the moon and the president was John F. Kennedy. There was no mention of inviting the Soviets to join the United States nor a call to not build the Saturn V.
While it is fashionable to sneer at the Apollo program, it should be stipulated that it worked. Americans did land on the moon in 1969 and then did it again five more times.
Now that suggests a real out of the box solution. Define a goal: go back to the moon and on to Mars. Then spend what it takes to accomplish the goal and exercise the leadership necessary. One wonders if that is the real outside the box solution, considering the state of space opinion making.