|Did Obama Use The Right "E" Word at Kennedy Space Center?|
|Written by Jeff Krukin|
|Friday, 16 April 2010|
During his speech at NASA's Kennedy Space Center yesterday, President Obama frequently used the "E" word when extolling the virtues of, and need for, his new direction for NASA. Just what is the "E" word, and where does his use of it fit along the Goldilocks Spectrum (too little, too much, just right)?
Even though NASA was created as an instrument for fighting the Cold War and thus the goal of the Apollo program was fundamentally a political one, the "E" word has been used for decades to justify the cost of the Federal space program. And as decades have passed, it has had increasingly less effect in stoking the boiler of support for NASA, which is why NASA didn't have enough money to complete the Constellation Program on time. The"E" word, "exploration," isn't enough to generate sustained political support for NASA's manned space program. So it needs to be replaced with a new "E" word, "economic," but in a broader context than the creation of jobs for space program workers and college students.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden got it right in his introductory remarks when he said NASA is extending the area we call home. Yes! And while you explore the areas around your home, you also live in, work in, play in, and develop your home. And this view was missing from the President's speech.
If President Kennedy could make a bold declaration that NASA was going to put astronauts on the Moon and return them to Earth within a decade, then in our era it would have been entirely appropriate for President Obama to make a bold declaration that NASA's new direction is about exploration with the goal of commercial development and permanent settlement of the solar system, beginning with the Moon and asteroids, and then on to Mars and beyond. This fits his statement that space exploration must be sustainable, and his intent that NASA should rely on the commercial sector for Earth-orbit transportation.
Regardless of which "E" word you prefer, it was a mistake for the President to give such short shrift to the Moon, to shrug it off just because... as he said quite rightly... there's so much more to explore (there's that word again). The destinations aren't mutually exclusive, and twelve astronauts on the Moon hardly means we know all there is to know. We've had quite a few people traipsing around our planet for a very, very long time and we're still learning about our home world.
Earth is our home. The solar system is our neighborhood. In between is orbit, the Moon, and the asteroids, and it is only the power of commercial competition that will give us the reliable, sustainable, and reasonably priced transportation that will get us from here to all of there. And then we get all of both "E" words.
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