March 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
Many Americans look fondly on the Space Race era in which a real partnership between the scientific community and the Federal Government (through NASA) was evident. The sense of national purpose and urgency from the competition with the U.S.S.R. ended up creating hugh advances in aeronatics, research, and knowledge of our solar system.
In the last decade the U.S. space program has become moribund- losing its relevancy and viability during a period of international strife and tightened budgets from the Great Recession.
NASA has unfortunately played a role in its own demise through bureaucratic inefficiency and poor prioritization despite the big outlays it receives.
Too much of NASA’s focus has been on various initiatives for human space flight- to the detriment of general scientific research. Aside from such worthy plans as the Hubble Telescope and the underfunded Jupiter Moons project, the majority of NASA’s preoccupations have been the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. While the Space Shuttle program produced some true heroes (and heroines) in its heyday it costed (by one estimate) $174 billion and has had a debateable outcome for furthering our scientific research. The International Space Station, when it too draws to a close, will have drawn untold billions that may’ve been better allocated.
Possibly because of the inherently inquisitive nature of mankind human space flight continues to be a predominant focus of a space policy. However, the expense, planning, and safety that must be built into a human-manned flight can mediate against regular advances in exploration. Our advances in knowledge of the universe are kept waiting in the balance along with that pre-occupation.
If we want to see a better return on our dollars available to fund NASA, we must instead look to prioritizing unmanned spacecraft and orbiters which can focus solely on adding to our scientific knowledge.