This post originally appeared July 22, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (www.chiletodayhottamale.net)
Last Friday, July 20, 2018, marked 49 years since man landed and walked on the moon for the first time. That event remains the most remarkable of my lifetime.
At the time of my birth, there did not exist anywhere in the world a rocket capable of placing a satellite into orbit. The existing rockets simply did not have the power to lift such a payload that far. Yet, shortly before my fifth birthday, Sputnik 1 entered Earth’s orbit. Mankind finally began to penetrate the frontier of space. And not quite 12 years later, we hit pay dirt: we visited, and safely returned from, another object in our solar system.
The first landing was Apollo 11. NASA had sufficient hardware to go through Apollo 20, but the moon had lost its draw, and the budget cuts began. NASA pared the program back, ending it with Apollo 17. President Nixon wanted to kill the program after Apollo 15, but OMB Deputy Director Caspar Weinberger managed to talk him out of it. Mankind left the moon on December 14, 1972. We have not returned since.
The 16 year old George, watching the first lunar walk on that Sunday night 49 years ago, never would have believed that he was watching the high point of manned space exploration.
The 46 years since our last visit to the moon has seen tremendous progress in unmanned space exploration. The Mars Rovers are great successes, though we may be seeing the end of life for Opportunity, a 15-years-old rover designed to work for a bit more than 90 Earth days on the Martian surface. It is currently powered down, waiting out a massive dust storm on the surface of Mars that is expected to go on until September. The Hyabusa mission to retrieve samples from an asteroid was a remarkable success, as was the recent New Horizons flyby of Pluto, which, by the way, is still a planet in my book.
But manned spaceflight? I don’t see the successes with this side of the program. We have gone back and forth to the International Space Station many times since the first piece was orbited 20 years ago, losing 14 astronauts along the way in two space shuttle disasters. What did we learn from all this? And how could we claim any success now that we have to rely on launch vehicles from another country to ferry our astronauts back and forth?
We can do something about this. Three programs are eating NASA’s budget: the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion capsule, and the Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway (LOP-G). I cannot summarize these programs any better than the summary from Bob Zimmerman’s http://behindtheblack.com/ posting, which I reprint below:
Link here. To quote their announcement at the link:
What’s killing America’s human access to space? Three projects: a rocket called the Space Launch System, a capsule called the Orion, and a new project called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.
These three programs are political boondoggles, pork, pie in the sky, jobs programs disguised as space programs. The Space Launch System, for example, is touted as the biggest rocket ever built. But its $30 billion development cost is eating up almost all of NASA’s human budget for deep space. Compare that $30 billion with the cost of developing Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy—less than a billion dollars. In other words, for the cost of developing the Space Launch System, we could develop thirty brand new rockets if we took the Elon Musk route. Or we could develop an entire Moon and Mars program.
After thirteen years of promises, the Space Launch System has never flown. And when it does, it will cripple NASA. The cost of one launch will be between one and two billion dollars. For that price, you could buy between eleven and 22 launches of the Falcon Heavy. You could buy the launches for an entire Moon and Mars program.
What’s worse, after the launch of each Space Launch System rocket, we will throw the exorbitantly-priced rocket away, then we will be forced to buy another one. Meanwhile, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are making rockets reusable. And reusable rockets, like reusable busses, trucks, trains, cars, and airplanes, will lower our cost of access to space dramatically.
Then there’s the Orion capsule that the SLS will fling into space. It cannot land. It can’t land on the Moon. It can’t land on Mars. And it’s too small to carry crews to Mars. It is a boondoggle.
Topping it all off is the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway, another nipple in the mouth of the Space Military Industrial Complex, another make-work program. It is a mini space station orbiting the moon. It’s useless and can’t even be manned or womanned year-round. But it will cost so much to build that we’ll never be able to build lunar landers. We won’t touch down on the moon. We’ll simply circle the moon from a distance and watch with frustration as the Chinese land human beings. [emphasis in original]
The last point about LOP-G is especially important. It is designed not to promote the exploration and settlement of the solar system, but as a kind of purgatory where the U.S. will remain trapped in lunar orbit, accomplishing nothing, while other nations land and settle the Moon.
I have signed the petition, and I encourage you to do the same. Let’s stop the waste of tax dollars, and get serious about manned space exploration again.