Symbol for the Chinese Lunar Program officeWhat is the mission of NASA?

No — Seriously, what is NASA’s mission?

Is it to be the lead Agency for exploration in the fields of aeronautics and space?  Discovering new technologies, opening new vistas of engineering and scientific knowledge for further exploration and utilization by US industry and the free nations of the world?

Or is it a high-tech outreach group?

Led by a failure in vision from the Oval Office and Congress stretching back for at least the past 20 years, NASA has stumbled its way from one intermediary goal to another.  The Agency that laid and executed bold plans for manned exploration of LEO and the Moon and robotic missions of breathtaking risk to the outer planets has seen its preeminent position in cutting edge aeronautics overtaken and its manned programs turned into little more than a USPS run to the ISS every few or more months (and even that ceases at the end of this year maybe next year).

Challenged to expand its vision and at least get us back to where we once went, the best the Agency could do was come up with Apollo on steroids.  And even that wouldn’t have us in a position to go back to the Moon, much less Mars before 2025.

Well, fear not.  If NASA is too busy on feel-good outreach projects to bother with the hard stuff of exploration of the New Frontier, there are others more than ready to pick up the mantle:

On the occasion of the Global Lunar Conference (GLUC) organized by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and the Chinese Society of Astronautics (CSA), held form 31 May to 3 June in Beijing, China preseted a certain number of elements of its program of robotic and manned exploration of the Moon and Mars.  The lunar program includes three phases.  The first (2002-2007) included the Chang’e-1 orbiter.  The second (2008-2013) includes Chang’e-2 next October (test of descent maneuvers from a 100 km orbit), Chang’e-3 in 2013 (lander and rover, to operate for three months on the surface), and Chang’e-4 ( a back-up for Chang’e-3) The third phase (2014-2020) involves return of samples with Chang’e-5.  This latter would be launched by an LM-5 (Long March-5 SLV – SJS)This will lay the foundation for the future manned lunar mission by 2025.

– “China Unveils Its Lunar Program,” Air & Cosmos (French lang.) July 2010. (subscription)

Also cited were India’s joint and solo programs as well as those of the Russians, Japanese and South Koreans.

It wasn’t always like this — Americans loved (and I pray still do) a challenge, one where the stakes and the risks are great — and the reward greater:

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. . . We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Some were willing to stake their all:

It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.

while acknowledging the lesser degree of surety of reward at journey’s end:

To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year–a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United Stated, for we have given this program a high national priority–even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.

But a nation mindful of its exceptional place in history, would do no less than that which is bold:

. . . if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon. . .on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, . . .and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.

President John F. Kennedy, 12 Sept 1962

Assuming we had leaders with vision, boldness and an ability to get things done:

As the leading space-faring nation, the United States is committed to addressing these challenges. But this cannot be the responsibility of the United States alone. All nations have the right to use and explore space, but with this right also comes responsibility. The United States, therefore, calls on all nations to work together to adopt approaches for responsible activity in space to preserve this right for the benefit of future generations.
From the outset of humanity’s ascent into space, this Nation declared its commitment to enhance the welfare of humankind by cooperating with others to maintain the freedom of space.
The United States hereby renews its pledge of cooperation in the belief that with strengthened international collaboration and reinvigorated U.S. leadership, all nations and peoples—space-faring and space-benefiting—will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives greatly improved.

US National Space Policy, June 2010

2 Comments

  1. He’s no John Kennedy, in war or in peace.

    I’m wondering how someone could miss the many advancements, for the entire world that came about as a result of smart people, working diligently, backed by a solid education, that was the program to get US astronauts to the Moon.

    The very computers we type on, let alone the “smart phones” more powerful than my very first desktop, the advances in medical care and nutirtion, particularly for the elderly are all a result of the effort of the Cold War.

    It is a sad day when NASA becomes a personal/national psychologically based counseling program to raise self-esteem or nations that have lived on the capital of their in ground resources and not the human resources of the brains of their citizens.

    Wonderful picture, BTW. Soon that live event will be but a memory of days gone by, except for the news coming from China and North Korea and Japan.

  2. it was very interesting to read.
    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

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