If you are a devotee of time travel...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan Are Right to Criticize Obama on Space

I heard Dylan Ratigan and Arianna Huffington blithely say, on Ratigan's show on MSNBC this afternoon, that they supported Obama's cutback of some of the space program, including the Orion, Constellation and Ares I and V projects.   Ratigan and Huffington cited the same tired reason - the money is better spent here on Earth - a reason which, if JFK had adhered to, would have resulted in no people on the Moon, and little of what we've accomplished in space.

Obama's plan would actually increase the NASA budget by 8 billion dollars - but the plan would end the current Moon initiative, and replace it with a mixed bag of endeavors in which Mars was the most prominent goal, and robots rather than human beings would take the initiative for us in space.

Neil Armstrong, James Lovell, and Eugene Cernan think this is a bad idea.  The three sent a powerful letter to Obama, urging that he reconsider his policy, and pointing out its dangers.  The letter focuses on the damage such cutbacks will have on America as a world leader.   I would go even further, and stress the damage such a policy could have for Planet Earth, and we, its sentient inhabitants - cutting back the American space program would hurt the entire human race.  The truth is that what little we have accomplished in space since the 1960s and 1970s, in getting beyond this world out into the cosmos, is precious little.  If we lose more of the opportunity we have failed to build upon since our voyages to the Moon, we could be sentenced forever to living on this planet, and no place else.  As I pointed out in my 2003 book, RealSpace, this could well mean that we'll never know much more than we do right now out who we are, what we are doing here, about our place and role in this Universe.  These reasons transcend political, military, and even scientific benefits.   The deepest reasons for the human species to get beyond this planet are closer to spiritual.

Obama wants to stimulate a commercial space program - getting out into space financed by private enterprise - which is something I'm all in favor of.    Capitalism is a powerful mechanism, and one of the problems our space program has had thus far is that it has failed to attract sufficient private and corporate investment.

But cutting back on NASA is not the way to do this.  My online friend MPAndonee put it well, in his comment on the Huffington Post: "I voted for Obama, and am a big supporter of Health Care and many of the things he has tried to accomplish [but] I strongly disagree with the cancellation of the Orion, Constellation and Ares I and V. A strong commercial space industry would be great. But, until we get it, NASA is the only game in town."

What about the emphasis on robots in the Obama plan?  There's nothing wrong with robots, and they're preferable to humans on interstellar voyages in which there is no hope of safe or any return to Earth.  But for our own solar system - when was the last time you saw a robot come up with an original theory, an unexpected insight, an unlikely but brilliant connection of ideas and experiences?

What's wrong with a focus on Mars?   That's fine, as long as Mars doesn't come before the Moon.  The reason is simple arithmetic.   The Moon is about 240,000 miles from Earth, which means we can reach it physically in a few days, and communicate back and forth to it in seconds.   Mars various from a minimum of about 36 million to as far away as 250 million miles from Earth.   You do the math for transport and communication time at even the minimal distance.

Look at the birth dates of Neil Armstrong, James Lovell, and Eugene Cernan - 1930, 1928, 1934.  That should tell us something about how fast our voyages to the Moon are receding into history.  We're running out of time.   The last thing we need now in our long journey to find our place in the universe is a cutback of the most feasible next step.

14-min podcast about astronauts vs. Obama on space


M.P. Andonee said...

Thank you Paul for the shout-out!

I am cross-posting in my blog and linking.

Paul Levinson said...

My pleasure - your comment on HuffPost captured what I was thinking about this, perfectly!

Jim Smith said...

I agree completely with your comments, and I would like to add some of my own. As I said in my podcast, this goes beyond mere bean counting.
I defy anyone to say there was any other program/event/accomplishment in modern American history that solidified the American people as our race to the Moon. Not only was the effort itself a way to unify the country in a time of war and civil unrest, but the RESULT of that effort gave us a sense of national pride unmatched in our history.

The whole world held its breath as the Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility, but WE were the ones to do it. We ALL took that small step, as Neil Armstrong famously said.
Despite the fact that the true reason for going to the Moon was steeped in national conflict, it gave us a sense of pride for doing something no one else in history had ever done. You cannot put a monetary value on that and Mr. Obama is being incredibly short-sighted in this action. Getting back some of our pride in being Americans is every bit as valuable as repairing our economy and it must not be allowed to wither in the shadow of his other priorities, especially when the money could easily be taken from the Pentagons unnecessarily bloated and wasteful budget.

Paul Levinson said...

Thanks for the comment and podcast link, Jim. I just put up a podcast episode of my own this topic - Astronauts vs. Obama on Space - the more people talking and writing about this, the better.

Anonymous said...

Inner space!

Exploring the vast wonderland that lies between our ears,

will benefit man exponentially more than competitive corporate exploitation and rifling of outer space.

Outer space exploration and theft consumes the funding,

that could have been used to develop the beautiful gifts

of our inner worlds.

Worlds that corporations have yet to completely possess.

Highly developed inner gifts, would allow us to virtually walk among the stars,

without ever leaving the planet. We would leave no filthy footprints;
of colonies, garbage dumps, and space junk.

We would return from exploring our own minds,

with peace, beauty, and harmony; overflowing.

We could walk upon this earth; with the understandings

of Christs, Buddhas, and Lao Tzus.

What profit could corporations derive, if there were only barefoot Profits,

walking empty handed, about the universe?

Corporatocracy, is implemented by the elite, for the elite.

The momentum of our mass psychosis is used to draw true wealth and power from US captive inmates, for those impaneled to wield it.

We really mean nothing to them.

They watch us struggling, uselessly as sperm in a condom, to meet their demands.

Corporations competing for profit, think like HAL: Salvation is illogical.

Corporations possess no soul. Hideous becomes our new normal.

The creed of Corporatocracy:
From each, everything that any secret strategy may optimally extricate.

To each, only minimal compliance with hard fought court judgments.

The same corporations deal with an ever-changing parade
of government employees and elected officials, that eventually leave or retire.

Corporations possess the experience and strategies to win,

and elicit favors from the novice replacement people.

We are being groomed, to become isolated, fearful, individual, weaklings;

unable to oppose any fate corporations may choose for us.

We are afraid to walk away from their deal, because we have been taught

that we have nowhere else to go. (for entertainment, as an example)

The way to our inner space has been almost completely obscured

by our participation in their amusements. We are being convinced
that personally, we have nothing interesting to offer ourselves,
no inner space left to explore.

Yes you do, just use your imaginations.

Well then, try putting some money and effort into it!

The battle to defeat the cruel alien inside, is way too scary and uncertain,

for men that are only comfortable and brave enough to go after imaginary

aliens; way out in space.

Man's inner demons demand the exhilaration of inglorious slaughter,

in fixed, sucker rip off, battles with inferiors; and usually to elevate

some fraudulent Corporatocracy sponsored cause.

Our destruction of the natural environment will end,

here on this dying planet, as we create our own hideous extinction.
Our love of power, strife, and conquest, (at the expense of everything else)

will not spread throughout the galaxies.

The Universe will be left in peace; quiet, and darkness. . . once again.