The Future of Space Exploration
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.
There’s still a fair amount of asteroid study that’s ground-based. I think the lab’s got a pretty good mix. If you decide you really need to study things through a telescope, telescopes are available, facilities are available. Bob Brown, before he got completely consumed by the Cassini mission, did a lot of ground-based observing in the outer solar system. So I think we have a pretty well-balanced program.
It is clear that there is much science that cannot be done from the ground. There is very important science that can only be done from the ground. It’s very complimentary. The spacecraft bring the resources that you cannot get otherwise. The budgets of spacecraft missions are considerably larger, and you can get expertise, and you can develop a laboratory facility that you wouldn’t be able to develop otherwise. That was a logical shift for the Lunar Lab, which has been very good for its reputation. I think it plays very nicely with the astronomy and telescope expertise. I’d say that this is one of the great successes of the Lunar Lab.