The Right Stuff For NASA?

Rand Simberg takes a look at Mike Griffin, the new administrator of NASA. Griffin appears to want to break NASA out of the business of shuttling astronauts back and forth to low Earth orbit and on to more ambitious ventures. NASA has been stuck in a rut for decades now, and bureaucratic inertia has stymied or hampered efforts at change.

NASA’s been stuck in a Catch-22 for a while: highly visible missions produce awareness and funding, but it requires awareness and funding to pull off highly visible missions. The plans for a Crewed Expedition Vehicle (CEV) and a return to the Moon are all ambitious goals, and NASA needs an administrator willing to support them.

At the same time, the future of manned spaceflight isn’t with NASA – it’s with clearing the remaining regulatory hurdles towards private spaceflight. SpaceShipOne proved that a private agency can make a suborbital space shot – Scaled Composites is much closer to Reagan’s “Orient Express” suborbital spaceplane than NASA ever got in two decades. Opening up space to commercial development will be critical to building a space infrastructure and making space accessible to the public.

Mr. Griffin has a long and difficult task ahead of him, but with luck he’ll be able to steer NASA towards a much brighter future that will help rekindle interest in space and breed the next generation of manned and unmanned space vehicles.

6 thoughts on “The Right Stuff For NASA?

  1. Which just leaves one question: what do we want in space, on the moon or on Mars. Why would we want a space infrastructure? Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see all those things come true, being that I was the scifi kid in school and still get stuck in front of the TV anytime anything Star Trek-y or space related comes on.

    But in order to fund such programs (either state-run or private or any mixture of those) you would be well advised to give a reason. Why should we go back to the moon (if, indeed, we ever did go there ;-))? Why should we bother space, the moon, or Mars with our problems, seeing that we aren’t even able to solve them on earth? What incentive is there in putting a lot of money into such programs, while at the same time, schools have to use books from back in the 80s? (I am strictly talking about German schools, of course, but I am told that some MN schools aren’t that different.)

    So, to put it in a nutshell: Why Space Travel?

  2. And another thing I’ve begun to wonder, as a space enthusiast:

    Why colonize space, when there are so many untouched regions of Earth that we could colonize and extract resources from, such as the great oceanic “deserts”, the planetary crust, the polar icecaps… all of which would be much cheaper to inhabit and transform than the moon or Mars?

    Not that I don’t have fantasies about a terraformed Mars and Venus, about seeing other solar systems, and really, it would be nice to get a stable population and an infrastructure going on another world before our fossil fuels run out… but still, I wonder about the practicality of it all…

    The shuttle and the ISS are a waste, however, and should be abandoned- they’re sinkholes for money. What we need to develop- a way to efficiently break into a stable geosynchronous orbit- is still impractical, and will probably remain that way for a long time to come, and I doubt private enterprise is going to fix that any time soon. I just wish we could put Burt Rutan in charge of NASA- the man is crazy as a loon, but he’s the sort of genius that they need right now.

    Or, perhaps, we could find the reincarnation of this guy-

  3. The biggest reason:

    1 fairly large rock at high velocity + 1 Earth = 0 human life.

    Or to borrow a quote from the greatest TV show in history:

    No. We have to stay here and there’s a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics and you’ll get ten different answers, but there’s one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won’t just take us. It’ll take Marilyn Monroe and Lao-Tzu, Einstein, Morobuto, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes .. and all of this .. all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars.

  4. Hey, dammit, stupid IE swallowed half my post!!! Here is what it originally said (if you can see the original post above, please ignore this one).

    >>1 fairly large rock at high velocity + 1 Earht = 0 human life.

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