Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trying not to lose

http://www.spacenews.com/policy/110208-house-earth-science-funds-manned-spaceflight.html

The point of the article is a bunch of lawmakers who want to reorient NASA back to human spaceflight. They will do this by taking climate monitoring funding, referred to in the article as global warming funding, away.

I believe a policy like this does 3 things: gives lawmakers the power to control research directions (even if only on this one particular goal), it hurts the climate monitoring via satellite initiatives that we sorely need, and it presumes to send humans back to the moon via, I assume, the constellation program.

I don't think the moon is a good goal and I really like that commercial space transport and delivery is making significant accomplishments via SpaceX and Orbital Technologies. This is good but not great news, since I doubt these companies will profit much. I think we need to think big like Mars. The challenges Mars poses are grand. Materials science, engineering, biochemistry, chemistry, biology, psychology, psychiatry, nanotechnology, etc will all need to be utilized in a major way. It could be the sputnik moment. Of course, the obvious problem is that a Mars trip is one way, right now. And that is why the moon is the next "best" thing.

The satellite issue is important since both weather and climate rely on satellite monitoring. Satellite development is long and expensive but it pays in science even though it costs a ton. The most exciting in my mind is soil moisture which the US has not been able to do, but the Europeans have. Why does NASA do satellites and climate monitoring? Because its a natural fit. They build them, launch them, and monitor them. No other agency is qualified to do that.

The controlling of research dollars and directions by lawmakers ...well...I don't care to comment on that at the moment. These are people trying to save jobs at home to guarantee continued employment for their constituents. But really it aligns with their re-election priorities and that's why it makes more sense to them. The status quo is desirable for jobs and who can blame them. Keep what you have so you don't have to risk asking for money for new job development in your region. especially in a floundering economy.

I don't really have a good sense that this budget stuff will help without a reorganization of our goals ... both public and private. I like slogans like "win the future" because really what we have been doing is trying not to lose. We need high risk high reward activities and they cost money. It will take money and the will to take big risks. But trying not to lose is not working.