Chair Force Engineer

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Eyes on the Prize

Earlier this week, NASA made it clear that the ultimate objective of its moon program was a permanently-manned base near the moon's south pole. In my eyes, this appears to be a sorely needed sense of direction behind the national moon effort.

It's worth asking the question, "What was the ultimate goal of Apollo?" The best answer to that question is "to beat the Russkies." There were some scientific secondary goals, but national pride (or, as Tom Wolfe claimed, "single combat" in the mold of David and Goliath) was the ultimate motivator. This explains why Apollo was allowed to fizzle out. We beat the Russkies, rubbed it in their faces with five more landings, and then quit--a sad end to a glorious endeavour.

Michael Griffin has said many times that the goal of America's national space program is a sustained human presence that brings human life to other worlds. By targeting all of NASA's manned moon missions towards a south pole base, all of our efforts will be applied towards that single goal, and (hopefully) nothing will go to waste.

Conspicuously absent from the NASA announcement is a strategy for transferring control of that lunar base to a private entity. Such a move will only take place if a commercial rationale for manned moon missions can be found. The plan for this transfer will grow more important as the moon program moves along. Without it, NASA will be forced to tend a moon base and have its hands tied in terms of initiating missions to Mars or asteroids. NASA did say that this base would be international in nature; perhaps NASA will rely on international partners to carry the burden of a moon base (akin to what will soon happen to the space station.)

How's this for a twist of fate: what if Russia is forced to sustain the moon base America started, by launching Ares rockets from pads originally designed for the similar Energia rocket?