Skip to main content

The New Vision For Space Exploration

The other night whilst attending the premier of Tom Hanks new IMAX movie, "Magnificent Desolation: Walking On The Moon 3D," I had the pleasure of meeting and having a short chat with the new NASA administrator Michael Griffin.

First impressions were that he is a very personable gentleman. I basically wished him luck with the new vision and hoped that he would be able to pull it off successfully.

I'll tell you my own reasons for hoping that he makes this work, no matter what the old jaded space community thinks.

What I've learned from being in the "space business" for quite a few years now, is that because there are so many smart people involved, everybody thinks that they are the smartest among many. As a result if one person can't convince another that their ideas are better than all comers, then the others must be stupid. Having made my money in the music business I thought I'd met the largest egos in the world, I was wrong.

Now everyone is going to be arguing as to why their particular version of how to go back to the moon is not being utilized and apportioning blame accordingly. Mike Griffin, being the guy who makes the final architecture call, tries to juggle all of the ideas and then balance them with the realities of the real world.

Many space advocates have their own pet projects or desires to see those projects included in the VSE. Some of them have merit; others are way off base for one reason or another.

The opposing views go like this:

Moon-vs.-Mars
Private-vs.-Public
Science-vs.-Settlement
Scaled Composites-vs.-Boeing

You all know what I'm talking about. Everybody has his or her own axe to grind.

If you actually listen to the people who will make the final decisions, (The politicians) they don't talk about science that much, or even exploration. They justify the expenditures to the taxpaying public by stating that NASA is a good investment in the future. That for every dollar spent on space the economy makes back X number of dollars. That's the reality of politics. The elected officials do sometimes have to explain to Joe Public why they are going to make this enormous investment and why we don't just put the funds into giving old people free prescriptions for medications.

Mike Griffin is juggling the President's goal of exploration with the political reality of "not in my back yard" politics. Many Congressmen and Senators are going to demand of Mr. Griffin that he ensure that jobs are not lost in their congressional districts or States. Mr. Griffin is also keenly aware that if he loses the multi billion-dollar investment made into facilities such as the Vehicle Assembly Building in Florida, he'll never be able to afford to replace it. So we see a compromise, which barring a dictatorship is how politics works. Get used to it!

The new architecture is a fine balancing act of achieving the set goal, with limited funds and not annoying too many politicians. It might be short on substance, it might lack a moon base initially, it might not even mention Mars, but in light of the current financial straits this country is in, it might just work and annoy the least amount of people.

I have one personal overriding reason as to why I would like to see this Vision for the future succeed, I have two young kids.

Last week I attended the Lunar Conference in Toronto; whilst there I met some very intelligent people, including a substantial contingent from China. Now I have the greatest of respect for the Chinese people and their history and culture. (Forget their government) but I really have no desire for my children and their kids to be riding in Chinese or Indian commercial airliners in the future. But that is precisely what is going to happen unless we provide our children, right now, with an exciting vision for the future and an inspirational reason for them to take up science, engineering and other technological careers. If we don't then whilst our kids are disappearing up their own virtual reality keisters, the people who take science seriously will leave us in their dust and we will be reduced to becoming the Portugal of Space.

Richard Godwin is content generator for Ad Astra Online, a member of the board of the NSS and President of Apogee Space Books.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.