Archive for Tuesday, January 10, 2012

U.S. must re-enter space race

January 10, 2012


President Obama’s decision in 2010 to cut NASA’s budget and abandon the Constellation program, established by the Bush administration, which was charged with returning Americans to the moon by 2020 and creating an “extended human presence on the moon,” has created a vacuum, which China will attempt to fill.

China has announced an ambitious five-year plan that includes the launch of space laboratories, a manned spaceship to the moon and the creation of its own global satellite navigation system that will almost certainly be used for military purposes.

The announcement comes six months after the United States ended the space shuttle program, leaving Russia and China as the only countries now capable of sending humans into space. The U.S. must now use Russian rocketry for visits to the International Space Station. How humbling is this? Having “beaten” the Russians to the moon, we must now ask for permission — and pay them — to go where we once boldly went before in American-made rockets.

During the glory days of the U.S. space program, the Soviet Union and the Cold War provided the impetus for America’s fledgling efforts in space. NASA’s mission was to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 pledge to put men on the moon by the end of the 1960s. When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, America and the world cheered. An estimated half-billion people watched on TV as Armstrong proclaimed, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was a triumph not only of American science and ingenuity, but a ratification of our way of life and its superiority to communism.

Just as a nation cannot rebuild a gutted military overnight, neither can America reconstitute a space program that has seen many of its scientists and technicians retire or find jobs in other industries.

Who doubts that China will use trips to the moon to build a permanent colony and will operate that colony, at least in part, to further its military goals? China certainly will have the capability through its own GPS system to jam or make mischief with America’s global positioning system network. Does anyone think a nation that hacks into U.S. government computers, stealing secrets, would not use a moon base to advance its interests?

Who thinks China lacks the financial resources to fulfill its five-year plan? The Chinese are flush with money we pay them for goods made there and sold here.

The next president should declare a rebirth of the U.S. space program with clear goals, such as a U.S. moon colony and a trip to Mars. A reduction in unnecessary government spending will help pay for it. Other democratic nations might share the financial burden and receive some benefits. We cannot afford to allow China to become the new leader in space exploration.

Many former U.S. astronauts and NASA employees have criticized the Obama administration’s retreat from manned spaceflight. In 2010, Neil Armstrong told the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology that the Obama administration’s decision to end moon exploration and other projects contributes to a “substantial erosion of the United States’ historically highly regarded space industrial base,” which has led to “a reduction in the number of students pursuing advanced engineering degrees.” He added, “A lead — however earnestly and expensively won — once lost is nearly impossible to regain.”

There will be a space leader in the 21st century. If that leader is China and not the U.S., we will pay a heavy price that will cost us far more than money.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. His email address is


usnsnp 6 years, 4 months ago

If I remember right there has been a number of Congressmen that has said that NASA and space travel is a waste of government money and kept reducing NASA budget.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

I agree, Cal. But in case you missed it, everyone says we're broke.

Here's my suggestion-- completely defund NASA. It should only be refunded by pulling money out of the budget for the War Dept. My suggestion would also be to use those cuts to double the current NASA budget, and use it for unmanned, non-military exploration-- you know, real science, not PR campaigns.

jayhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

I heard some time ago that much of the digital technology we have was originally developed specifically because analog does not work in space. Has there been a direct benefit here on earth by the development of digital technology? I wonder if a manned space trip to Mars might produce useful technology here. During the trip there, air and water would have to be cleaned and recycled. Might that be useful here? They might have to hydroponically grow their own food. Might that be useful here? Sure, we know how to do that now, but they would have to develop techniques that would prefect that technology. Space, like any lab here on earth is an investment in future knowledge. Besides, I believe it's in our collective DNA to go out there and explore. If we don't, future generations will look back at our shortsightedness.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

New technologies will always find uses outside of the initial use for which they were originally developed.

But instead of using that as a rationale for programs that have no reasonable justification, we should instead put our money into programs that produce things we really need (and we don't need to send people to Mars) and basic research.

BTW, digital technology was inevitable. It would have happened without the space program.

jayhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

"we don't need to send people to Mars" - Yes we do. Just like our early ancestors needed to leave Africa. Just as we need to explore the bottom of the ocean and the tops of the mountains. Just as we need to listen to music and just as we need to paint pictures. We need to listen to the static of space hoping to hear some distant voice and we need to call out hoping someone will hear us. It's who we are and what we are.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 4 months ago

The massive amounts of money it would take to send humans there would primarily be devoted to just keeping them alive in extremely inhospitable conditions. I've even read that the radiation exposure alone would mean that even if they could be sent there and back safely, they'd likely be dead within a couple years of their return.

The better idea is to use our limited resources to do actual research on Mars, not just a pointless PR stunt whose primary results would be depleted finances and a few astronauts dying early deaths.

Maybe in a few decades, the technology will exist to send humans there on a truly meaningful and productive mission that won't be suicide.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 4 months ago

I feel sorry for Cal Thomas. He's so frightened of "them" that he wants to frantically throw countless sums of money around in hopes that it will protect us against "them". (For some reason, the USSR's reaction to "Star Wars" comes to mind.)

If he thinks that our hackers aren't going after the Chinese, he's incredibly naive. And, if he doesn't realize that some of our hacking problems are not caused by "them" Anonymous has already demonstrated...but by our own arrogance and overconfidence, then he's foolish.

Cal apparently thinks that the primary reason to establish a colony on the moon is military. Because, with a colony on the Moon, China can send out GPS signals to wreak havoc with our GPS signals.

OMG!! Not that!! Why did it never cross our minds that anyone might do that? Had we thought of it, we could have realized we'd need to develop shields against it!

Indeed, too bad it never crossed our minds to colonize the moon. OMG! Why didn't we listen to Cal Thomas??

Cal is a frightened little man. He wants to spend gazillions on ego-tripping. On chest-thumping. He's all stressed out because we "have" to use rockets owned by the...gasp...Russians and get to the space station. But it apparently never crosses his mind that it's one heck of a lot more cost-effective to us to pay for a seat on the plane than it is for us to build and maintain our own national fleet of planes.

Not only that, but Cal seems completely oblivious to the development of the PRIVATE space industry. I wonder how quickly someone pointed this out to him, the free market conservative that he is.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

The idea of pouring massive amounts of money, and using vast amounts of resources, to expand our military conflicts into space is rather horrifying to me.

I'd say that we should focus our efforts on solving our problems on this planet, and not destroying it, first.

Once that's been done, we could consider space exploration, but would probably find no real need for it.

SnakeFist 6 years, 4 months ago

America's disinterest with space is a direct result of academics taking over NASA and engaging in esoteric and uninspiring projects - mere research for the sake of research. Thirty years after we first landed on Mars, we did it again and celebrated as though it was the first time when we should have been lamenting thirty wasted years. Put engineers back in charge at NASA and give them a coherent vision to pursue.

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