I am presently writing comments on a Space Policy Paper and I was pointing the author to a column written by my father, John G. Cramer for Analog Magazine TWENTY years ago. The second paragraph is terribly timely so much so it is scary.
I’ve just returned from Vancouver, BC, where I was Science Guest of Honor at V-Con. Dr. David Stephenson, a Canadian space scientist, remarked there that each nation seems to play its own national game in space. The Russians play Chess, plotting their moves with a strategy that looks decades into the future. The Japanese play Go, systematically surrounding each technological territory with their pieces until they make it their own. The Europeans play Bridge, kicking a lot under the table while presenting a smooth performance above its surface. And what of the USA? Well, in the 1960’s we were playing Monopoly. But now, under the present policies of NASA, we seem to have switched to Trivial Pursuits …
By the time you read this some 4-6 months from now, our democratic processes will have elected a new president. He will, among other things, have to decide what to do about the NASA problem. At minimum a new NASA Administrator must be appointed, and perhaps the space agency will also be restructured as some critics are presently suggesting. Will there be further plodding along the dismal path that has lead from the triumph of Apollo to the Challenger Disaster? Will the agency continue to place science far down in the priority queue, going always for the Premature Choice and the job security of mammoth engineering projects. Will NASA continue to withhold any investments in the future, in advanced propulsion technologies, and in new ideas? I hope not.
I hope that the new President will choose carefully when making the decisions on the new head for NASA and on whether to restructure the agency. The new President can get advice from anyone he chooses. I think that he should have a very long talk with Freeman Dyson.