Wednesday, September 21, 2005

NASA Revives Apollo - While Starving Space Life Science

NASA's plan seeks to pick up where Apollo left off. The Apollo program was killed in the early 1970's just as it was moving from a sequence of engineering and political stunts to a program of full blown planetary expeditions. The last three landings, Apollos 18-20 would have featured some spectacular locations including the center or [sic] the crater Copernicus. Plans for even more expansive human exploration were also developed which could have led to a permanent human base in perhaps a decade or so. They were never realized.


Perhaps Mike Griffin will come to see that the life science upon which so much of the ISS was justified - often as enabling technology for human planetary exploration - has value as well. Many have learned that when NASA says that something is "science driven" what it really means is "if we can afford it".

GSFC Center Director and former AA for Space Science Ed Weiler is often quoted as saying that "exploration without science is just tourism". So far all we have seen of Mike Griffin's moon plans is the tourism brochure.

I would argue that science and exploration, far from being incompatible, are in fact symbiotic. NASA's internal war will, of course, continue unabated. But I can't help but think that a robust plan for lunar exploration -- one carried out in the spirit of discovery and unburdened by military imperatives -- will by nature tell us much about our immediate solar neighborhood. And none too soon.


eyemage said...

did you get the bit about how all sorts of advances in technology have occured in the 30 odd years since apollo...except rocket engines...


i do not want to believe that science has done nothing to improve rocket propulsion in all this time.

does anyone else feel that way?

Mac said...

We can build nuclear rockets, of course, but NASA is very careful not to mention the "N" word -- at least in public.

W.M. Bear said...

Mars doesn't absolutely require nukes but they would make it a lot, lot easier, with a specific impulse of (I seem to recall) at least an order of magnitude higher than chems. Failing to develop nuclear propulsion is just one of the more lame-brained political correctness things that NASA ever latched onto.