from JeffreyBenett Website
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The Bush administration's plan for a return to the Moon is drawing skepticism from many quarters. Some think we can't afford the cost, and that the money would be better spent on problems here at home.
Others look at the spectacular success of the Spirit rover on Mars, and argue that the space program should focus only on robotic missions. Even some space enthusiasts argue against the Moon base, believing we should head directly to Mars. But my 25-year career in science education, including two years at NASA headquarters, tells me these concerns are misplaced.
The Moon is the right goal, and now is the right
If we liken the Apollo Moon landings to the
voyages of Columbus, our presence on the Space Station is like a Spanish
presence on Gibraltar. An entire generation has grown up in a world where
humanity's greatest accomplishments in space flight belonged only to their
parents and grandparents.
I'm no fan of budget deficits, and I'm a skeptic of supply-side economics, but there are indeed some programs that pay for themselves. The historical case for Apollo is clear-cut. Technology developed for the Moon landings became the basis for modern computers. The need for rapid communication between scientists and engineers working in different places fueled the innovations that led to the Internet.
Our success in the race to the Moon turned the
tide in the Cold War, ultimately turning former enemies into friends without
a shot being fired. Economists can argue over the precise economic benefit
of Apollo, but our nation clearly got a great return on its investment.
One idea suggests obtaining solar energy on the Moon and beaming it back to Earth. Even more intriguing is the prospect for nuclear fusion with helium-3 - a rare gas that is abundant in the lunar soil but virtually nonexistent on Earth. Incredible as it may sound, a nuclear fusion power plant that used hydrogen as its fuel could extract enough energy from the water flowing through your kitchen faucet to power the entire United States.
We do not yet know how to build a fusion power
plant, but the availability of helium-3 would make the task much easier, and
the kitchen faucet example shows that we wouldn't need much. Think about it:
no more concern over global warming, and no more difficulty providing energy
to poor people in developing nations, all because of a fuel we find on the
But no one grows up with the dream of being a
robot. Inspiration comes from people.
Mars is a great goal for the long-term, but we
can't afford to wait on reinvigorating our space program.
Imagine a world in which even the poorest
children can look up at the Moon and know that people just like them are
living and working there. Imagine a world in which Arabs and Israelis,
Chechens and Russians, Americans and Iraqis, can all look up and say, "We
are working together up there, so surely we can work together down here.
His words carried the message that space exploration transcends political boundaries, belonging to no one person, nation, or culture. It is time for us to continue our leap, building a base on the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars and beyond. In doing so, we will prove that conflict is not the only option open to our species.
A permanent Moon base will offer the hope of a
better future, one in which we all learn to work together to preserve our
home planet, while at the same time beginning a journey that may ultimately
take us to the stars.
End of Original Article
(based on comments received about the article
On the question of how the new initiative will affect the science budget: The cancellation of next yearıs planned mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope certainly makes scientists nervous. However, NASA's Administrator claims the decision was NOT based on money, but rather on a variety of factors of which post-Columbia Shuttle safety was paramount.
The scientific community is understandably
skeptical, so we'll see where it goes from here. Personally, I think that
Hubble and other space science missions are among the only really
inspirational things that we as a nation have at present, so it would seem
pretty self-defeating to cut them in order to make room for a future program
whose most important aspect is its inspirational value.
Yes, I think it's worth spending a couple hundred billion to start a Moon base (for all the reasons outlined in my commentary).
Thus, we should get started by finding
significant new funding for NASA right now - not by raising its budget by
slightly more than inflation, as the President proposed, but by being
prepared to double or triple the budget for space exploration. So now to the
obvious question: even if the program has long-term benefits, where do we
get the money for it now, when we are running a $500 billion deficit this
And consider this: The average error in projected budget deficits a year out is about 12%, which means about $60 billion on the $500 billion projection for this year. Thus, the uncertainty in this year's budget deficit is four times NASA's entire budget - meaning that even a substantial increase for space is effectively lost in the "noise" among our other budgetary problems.
If you accept my contention that there's a long-term positive return for the space initiative, then we ought to go ahead and find the necessary funding.
(It's also worth noting that even in the short
term, money spent on the space program essentially all goes to the creation
of fairly high-tech, high-paying jobs that usually stay right here in the
U.S. - exactly the kind of jobs that we are most in need of.)
First, for those of you who may have missed my appearance on Denver's 9 News on Saturday morning, I gave the following analogy to illustrate the importance of inspiration in general:
In addition, while inspiration is generally considered priceless, let's try to put a value on it anyway, just for the sake of argument.
For example, suppose that building a Moon base as a stepping stone to Mars and beyond provides only enough inspiration to cause an additional 1% of the U.S. population to go on to get a college degree.
This is a pretty conservative assumption, especially when you consider that the percentage of the U.S. adult population (over age 25) with a 4-year college degree has already risen from 7.7% in 1960 to about 26% today. (Yes, I do think much of that can be traced to Apollo, but that's a different argument.)
Statistical studies of income show that, over a lifetime, the average college graduate earns some $1 million more than a high school graduate.
Now run the numbers:
The Moon should never have been a one-shot deal. It's time to go back and complete a dream that has been on hold for more than 30 years.
The future depends on it.