Because It’s What Next

The Constellation Program logo

Included with the stunning just-released $3.8 trillion budget was an interesting cut. It appears alarming at first: NASA’s Constellation Program, with the goal of returning men to the moon by 2020, has been told to shut down (alas, the Post has taken down their earlier, more hilarious title: “Obama’s Proposed Budget for NASA Starts Moon War on Earth”). The winding-down itself will cost $2.5 billion, after $9 billion was put into the project.

This does seem troubling to aficionados of space travel and exploration (not to mention NASA employees and contractors), but there’s most assuredly a silver lining:

Instead of continuing to develop the Ares 1 and Orion, the administration wants to invest $6 billion over five years in a commercial space taxi to carry astronauts into low Earth orbit. The budget would also funnel billions of dollars into developing new space technologies, such as the ability to refuel spacecraft in orbit. What isn’t in the budget is a specific target for exploration.

You know what? That’s absolutely fine. If anything, a more open-ended commitment is ideal, as it allows more space for contingencies. The truth is, we don’t know what we’ll find, or discover, or invent. The same goes for other massive scientific projects like the Large Hadron Collider. Sure, there are some concrete objectives, but they’re fairly modest in scope (with the exception, perhaps, of the ‘God particle’). The fact that overall NASA funding has actually increased is very encouraging.

And to all those who decry a space program as a waste of dollars better spent here… as usual, Aaron Sorkin phrases it better than I ever can:

There are a lot of hungry people in the world, and none of them are hungry because we went to the moon. None of them are colder, and certainly none of them are dumber because we went to the moon. We have to go to Mars because it’s next. For we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill, and we saw fire. And we crossed the ocean, and we pioneered the West, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on the timeline of exploration, and this is what’s next. [YouTube]

…and we reach for the stars.

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