Chair Force Engineer

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bring Da Noise, Lose Da Moon

Apparently Scott Horowitz and Jeff Hanley aren't being disturbed by "the noise" that the space blogs are making about Project Constellation and the renewed exploration of the moon. I really have to agree with this bit of wisdom from Clark Lindsey:

Whatever. I have no interest in wasting my time making noise to disturb Mr. Horowitz. There are too many exciting things happening in the commercial spaceflight world to get all worked up about NASA. It's just a shame to see all those tens of billions of dollars going for so little.

This brings up the interesting possibility that we may have to rely on the private sector rather than NASA to put humans back on the moon. In case Michael Griffin and company haven't noticed, there are many in Congress who think that humans on the moon is a waste of money that could be spent on social programs. And even the members of Congress who truly believe in lunar exploration aren't prepared to write NASA a blank check.

There's a good chance that Constellation will not survive the incoming Congress in its current form. Congress could make NASA reconsider smarter alternatives like Direct Launcher or multiple Atlas V launches. If I were a betting man, I'd say that NASA will get Ares I and Orion funded, but only as a means of accessing the ISS. The moon will be off the table.

At the same time, the private sector will inevitably get us back to the moon. It will probably take longer, as the private sector needs to play catch-up, but it's not out of reach. I don't fall for the arguments put forward by some pundits (who are good, patriotic Americans at heart) that we need a government-funded effort so we can beat China to the moon. There's plenty of moon for all of us, and while I'm skeptical that China will get there in the next 15 years, it won't be the end of the world if the thirteenth man on the moon is a Chinese communist.

What isn't hard to believe is a private orbital spaceflight program within the next five years. I can forsee SpaceX or somebody else building a capsule that would fit on an Atlas V and visit Bob Bigelow's space station. From there, the next steps are circumlunar flights, which wouldn't be a problem for a two-Atlas launch scenario. Eventually there would be a market for manned missions to the surface of the moon.

The message to my fellow "space cadets" is to keep the faith. NASA might be making poor choices that will ensure either cancellation now, or nothing more than "flags and footprints" in 12 years time. But there are plenty of bright minds in this great nation who do not work for NASA, and they will ensure that sometime within my lifetime, Americans will be on the moon again. For me, it's not a choice between taking the fast boat and taking the slow boat. It's looking increasingly like a choice between the "no boat" and the slow boat.