A visionary new plan for NASA

I’m a little slow on the uptake here, but I guess I thought everyone understood that the Obama administration’s new plan for NASA was not an abandonment of a return to the Moon but rather replacing it with a much more visionary approach, restoring the agency’s leadership in human exploration of the Solar System.

NASA’s work has made it possible for commercial ventures to take humans into Earth orbit and perhaps even to the Moon. So it is time for NASA to turn the “local” transportation over to industry and focus on more ambitious missions worthy of NASA’s heritage.

This is not a partisan plan, so don’t let your feelings about the administration, whether positive or negative, get in the way of seeing its possibilities.

NASA can still contribute astronauts and advanced instruments to upcoming lunar missions, but I agree with The Planetary Society (TPS), of which I am a member, that canceling the Constellation program makes sense.

To quote from TPS’s statement on the new plan for NASA:

President Obama has charted a course that could launch the United States on a new path to historic “firsts” in space — first astronauts to travel beyond the Moon, first astronauts to touch down on an asteroid, first astronauts to reach a Lagrange point, first astronauts to reach Mars.

The Planetary Society’s leadership believes this new plan will take humans beyond Earth orbit to interplanetary space sooner than was possible under the old program, and it will take us farther and to more destinations than was ever planned with the Constellation program.

We commit our energy and resources to help turn this NASA plan from words to reality. Congress must now act upon the President’s proposal. We recognize that it will be a long, hard fight, that there are entrenched interests that must be overcome, that business-as-usual must be surmounted, and, and that it will require breaking through technological barriers. But if human space explorers are to reach their destination of Mars within the next few decades — a cherished dream of Society Members — this is the only realistic way to get there.

If you agree, please tell your representatives in Congress. And if you want to contribute to TPS’s public information campaign to mobilize support for the new plan, click here.

As the statement at that link notes: “The possibilities are thrilling… if Congress can resist narrow interests and approve this budget in the next few months!”

When I was 16, a young president (JFK) set a goal of sending humans to the Moon and returning them safely within the decade of the 1960s. It inspired NASA and the nation, and the goal was achieved.

Now a young president (Obama) has set a goal to send humans to the surface of Mars and return them safely in his lifetime. Will we be similarly inspired?

If I live into my 90s and NASA achieves that goal, I will be watching astronauts who are the same age as present readers of my Astrobiology (“Cool Science,” Lerner, 2008). Perhaps, they’ll even remember that book’s dedication: “To the first Earthlings on Mars, who may be reading this book. Are you one of them?”

Fred Bortz

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