Congress to NASA: go to the Moon

The entire universe in blog form
April 27 2011 7:00 AM

Congress to NASA: go to the Moon

So, what do you do with the rocket capable of lifting 130 tons off the Earth that's requested of NASA in the Presidential budget for 2012?

Some Congresscritters in the US House have an idea. They want NASA to go back to the Moon.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Advertisement

Hmmm.

A bill making this case was recently submitted to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology where it'll be debated. I have no idea if it'll get out of committee, let alone pass on the floor of the House.

But it's interesting. The bill, HR 1641, states as its purpose:

To direct the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to plan to return to the Moon and develop a sustained human presence on the Moon.

Ah, that word, "sustained". It fills me with nachas, as my mom would say. Whenever I look at the Moon, every time, I wonder when we'll go back.

HR 1641 lists many reasons to go back, and indeed hits the high notes of increased knowledge of science, developing advanced technology, improving our long-term economy, and inspiring young people.

But then it says this:

(10) Space is the world's ultimate high ground, returning to the Moon and reinvigorating our human space flight program is a matter of national security.

(11) Technologies developed and sustained by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's human space flight program, such as liquid and solid rocket propulsion, environmental and life support systems, and communications, navigation, and control systems are important to our military.

(12) China and Russia, understanding the economic and strategic importance of human space flight, have declared their intentions of colonizing the Moon and are advancing their lunar exploration plans.

(13) It is strategically important that the United States possess and maintain the capabilities of unfettered operation in the space domain, and not cede the space domain to other nations.

Yeah, well. It's true that China wants to go to the Moon, and Russia may or may not have the wherewithal to do it, but I'm not happy with this being a motivation for us to go back. I don't like the idea of using the dreaded "other" as an impetus for space exploration. We've done this in the past -- the whole reason we went to the Moon in the 60s was to beat the Soviets -- and look what happened there. Yes, we went, and it was magnificent, but as soon as political winds changed Apollo was canceled. Apollo 14 hadn't even lifted off when the last missions were taken off the books.

Some space advocates call Apollo a "flags and footprints" mission: get there just to get there. That's what a space race tends to do. Once you win, what then? Well, you're done. You've won.

But when we go back to the Moon, it shouldn't be a race. I want us to go back to stay. Get there, set up shop, figure out how to establish life there and then sustain it.

I talk to schoolkids quite a bit, and sometimes they ask me about the Moon Hoax. I have some fun debunking it, and we talk for a while about it and the Moon missions. Every time I do, I have to remind myself of something that shocked me terribly the first time I realized it: these kids were born long after the Space Shuttle had been flying. Heck, they were born long after Hubble was launched!

When I think back to when I was a kid, NASA was the can-do agency. They went to the Moon! There's a lot of that left to go around, but still, when kids hear about NASA it's usually about something that went wrong. A Mars mission catastrophically malfunctioned, a Shuttle launch was endlessly delayed, or worse, we've lost an Orbiter.

To them, NASA isn't necessarily the inspiration it once was. But it still could be.

I want us to go back to the Moon, go to a near-Earth asteroid, explore Mars and its moons. But I want us to do it for the right reasons. Not because someone we don't like is threatening to do it first, but because it's the right thing to do.

And it is, for many of the reasons put forth by this bill. It may be naive of me, but I can hope that sometimes, when we do something as a nation it's because it's the right thing to do. We do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons all the time. Exploring space, understanding the universe around us, pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of: those are things we should be doing. For all the right reasons.



Related posts:


TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.