Should NASA Get Out of Low Earth Orbit?

At the Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program meeting Neil DeGrasse Tyson said NASA should get out of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). His main argument was that NASA should not be doing the routine; NASA should be doing space exploration. It is very tempting to agree with him since in my opinion the Space Shuttle and the Space Station were major steps backward, which will lead no where, which suck up all available funds and block actual space exploration and development. But if NASA gets out of LEO there is a problem.

The problem with NASA leaving LEO and concentrating only on space exploration is then who does the space development? Many will say private industry. But in truth, there is very little private space industry in human space flight. Most plans for future private human space flight anticipate demand from the government. That leaves a vacuum in space development.

If the government is footing the bill for space development which part of the government should be in charge of developing space? The one with the most experience. Which government agency has the most experience in space? NASA.

That begs the question, is there any space development to be done in Low Earth Orbit? I have to admit I have never bought into Werner Von Braun’s vision of lots of space infrastructure illustrated so beautifully in the Movie 2001. Shuttles, and space stations etc. are expensive to maintain and of limited utility. Sure it is said to be efficient in terms of energy. But in space with the right technology, energy is cheap. Hardware is expensive and probably always will be.

What kind of space development needs to be done in LEO? The answer is the construction of working technology demonstrations of Solar Power Satellites. The government needs to do the initial technological demonstration of Space Solar Power otherwise there may never be a business case for solar power from space. Either the Department of Energy or NASA should demonstrate Space Solar Power. So if NASA is doing anything in Low Earth Orbit it ought to be to develop Space Solar Power. If NASA is not interested in Space Solar Power or Space Development, then Neil DeGrasse Tyson is right NASA should get out of Low Earth Orbit.

Remembering Apollo 1, Columbia, and Challenger

Remembering Apollo 1, Columbia, and Challenger at Arlington–  NASA Acting Administrator Christopher Scolese and other NASA senior leaders participated in a wreath laying ceremony as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009, at Arlington National Cemetery.

President Barack Obama on NASA’s Day of Remembrance

The arrival of a new year reminds us that life is a journey, one that takes us on many unexpected paths. NASA’s role is to pioneer journeys into the unknown for the benefit of humanity. Along the way, we sometimes experience tragedy instead of triumph.

Today, we pause to reflect on those moments in exploration when things did not go as expected and we lost brave pioneers. But what sets us apart as Americans is our willingness to get up again and push the frontiers even further with an even stronger commitment and sense of purpose.

On this Day of Remembrance, we remember the sacrifices of those who dared to dream and gave everything for the cause of exploration. We honor them with our ongoing commitment to excellence and an unwavering determination to continue the journey on the path to the future.

President Barack Obama

Why Did Our Early Striving For Space Slip Away?

Miles O’Brian wrote an OpEd: We Aimed for The Stars…Until We Stopped in Space News. Included in it was a powerful question.

Truth is, we have done nothing to equal (much less top) the accomplishments of Apollo. And even worse, we haven’t tried. We did something truly great, but then walked away from it. We had lightning in a bottle — and we opened the lid.

Our country has been pulling the rug out from under NASA ever since Apollo. Really, the agency is running on fumes from rocket fuel that was purchased (on a credit card no doubt) in 1961.

Why did we allow it to slip through our fingers? Sometimes I get the feeling we are the only nation that just doesn’t get it, because we are either cocky or stupid or distracted — or all of the above.

Was it the lack of money?

Was it the shuttle?

Was it boredom with the Moon and the Expense of Mars?

Was it a change in American culture?

What is your opinion what did we lose? What changed? What do we need to regain? Or do you feel we have been making steady progress for the last 50 years?

Dr. Paul D. Spudis wrote What Apollo was …. and wasn’t 

Apollo was not about the Moon, or even about space.  It took place in space and ultimately, on the Moon.  But Apollo was a battle in the Cold War.  John Kennedy did not say, “Go to the Moon and press onwards to the planets.”  He challenged America to show the superiority of its economic and political system by landing a man on the Moon and returning him to Earth “before this decade is out.”  The key objective was not going to the Moon – it was to beat the Soviets to the Moon.  This objective was attained with profound consequences, critical to our Cold War victory to a degree still not fully appreciated.

While DR. Spudis explains why we haven’t had the level of funding and excitement for the space program as there was during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. It does’t explain why NASA has been at near stagnation for thirty years. NASA could have been making slower quieter progress. But NASA hasn’t really been making progress.

NASA Radar Provides First Look Inside Moon's Shadowed Craters

NASA radar flying aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is giving scientists their first look inside the moon’s coldest, darkest craters. The Mini-SAR instrument, a lightweight, synthetic aperture radar sent back images of the floors of permanently-shadowed polar craters on the moon that aren’t visible from Earth. Scientists are using the instrument to search the insides of the craters for water ice.

NASA NEWS RELEASE : 09-010

Inauguration Parade will Feature NASA Astronauts and Lunar Rover

Astronauts participating in the Inaugural Parade include  Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Eric Boe, mission specialists Donald Pettit, Steve Bowen, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Shane Kimbrough and Greg Chamitoff  who flew on space shuttle Endeavour in November 2008 on the STS-126 mission.  Astronaut Mike Gernhardt will drive the rover and Astronaut Rex Walheim,wearing a spacesuit, will ride with him.  NASA will video the parade from a camera mounted on the lunar rover and the lunar rover team will provide live updates to the NASA News Twitter feed throughout the event.

RELEASE : 09-011