The Washington Post reports that Tom DeLay managed to get the full funding for NASA’s Moon and Mars initiatives. Given that the Johnson Space Center is in DeLay’s district, that’s not a particularly big surprise.
As much as I despise pork-barrel politics, NASA’s new mission is a bold and audacious attempt to expand the frontiers of mankind. The potential benefits of these programs are great — the lunar surface is rich in Helium-3, an isotope with great potential for generating massive amounts of power. If $16.2 billion can get us that much closer to a source of energy that will remove our dependence on fossil fuels, it will have been worth it.
The CEV or Crewed Exploration Vehicle design is a much more efficient design than the Shuttle, and if they can use the already man-rated Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters to lift the CEV into orbit, that would increase the efficiency of the program and negate the need to either man-rate the existing Delta-IV boosters or build a new launching system. Using as many off-the-shelf systems as possible will help keep costs down.
The future of space travel still lies in the commercial sector, but if government and industry can work cooperatively on developing new space technologies, the future of manned space exploration can become more than sticking a few astronauts into low orbit. Space is the distance required to get somewhere, not a destination in itself. The moon, Mars, and the rest of the solar system provides unimaginable amounts of resources, energy, and scientific discovery. For far too long our space program has suffered from a shocking lack of vision when it comes to manned space exploration. Programs like the Mars rovers Sprit and Opportunity have shown that NASA can put together successful robotic missions that exceed all their expectations. If NASA can do the same with its new mission, the future of manned space exploration can once again get back on track.