LPL in 2008 |
The Moon & the Solar System |
Extra-Solar Planets |
Finding Life Outside |
The Earth’s Climate |
The Future of LPL
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Imagine building a Gothic cathedral in the Middle Ages. It takes 50 years to build a Gothic cathedral or something like that. Suppose you had a new administration, a new king every four years, and you’re trying to keep up the building of that Gothic cathedral. It would be a real challenge to keep that cathedral on track.
That’s kind of what the space program is trying to do now. Every four years there’s a new administration, and this guy wants to go to the Moon, and this guy wants to go to Mars, and this guy doesn’t want to do anything, and this guy wants to do something else. It would be better if they decided: This is the level of funding the country can afford, and I think it’s worth this much money. It may not be as much as you’ve had in the past, but it’s going to be stable for the next decade, or the next fifteen years. We’re going to fly a series of missions. We’re going to fly them this frequently, and we’re going to open them up to everybody and everybody can have a piece of the pie, and that’s going to be the plan.
That isn’t the way this country works. What’s going to happen in future? I don’t know. I remember when Reagan went into office he wanted to cut NASA funding to zero by the end of his first term. He couldn’t do it, so his plan was to cut it to zero by the end of his second term. Jeez, we survived the Reagan administration. That’s really a heck of an accomplishment. Now what’s going to happen?
I think in terms of living on the planet Earth in some sustainable way, we’re really going to want to understand how to maintain civilization. We need sustainable energy for one thing, as most people are now aware. I think part of that is going to be going into space and harnessing solar energy. Another prospect is utilizing the energy in space to build infrastructure.
It seems to me that if you start thinking that way, you see that humanity is going to want some human capability to operate in space. There’re two parallel programs, the unmanned robotic probes and the human program. Most space scientists in my position are much more in favor of the robotic “black boxes,” because what scientists like to do is build black boxes and send them out there and land them on planets.
But if you think of the human adventure and the whole issue of sustainability, it seems to me that we really want the capability to operate in the inner solar system within a few generations. We need our black box missions to give us information about what’s out there and what the environment is, but at the same time we need human capability to operate.
I’d like to see that done in a way that the benefits all humanity. Those resources somehow need to come back and benefit the whole planet, not just the group of investors that builds the equipment that goes out there and captures the mineral resource or the solar energy. It’s an investment we can all make together in our own future security.
Planetary exploration, to me, is not just an academic exercise that you’re doing in your lab or your ivory tower or something. It’s really where the whole future of how we live on this planet is going. It’s something that needs to be integrated successfully or we’re going to have big problems, one way or another. I think getting humanity, getting the whole world speaking the same language in terms of what our real situation in the solar system and the universe is, is a really important thing for scientists to be doing.
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