Where next for space?

nasa-ares-cone-cp-7563350I have to admit to being quite saddened by President Obama’s announcement cancelling the NASA project to carry out manned missions to the moon.  Perhaps it’s something to do with my age; I can remember the Apollo moon missions as a schoolboy, along with the feeling that by 2001 we might actually have a world something like that portrayed in the movie 2001.  And then Star trek couldn’t possibly be too far behind.

Well, to paraphrase the old Apple advert ‘2001 wasn’t like 2001′.  The public lost interest, the 70s happened and the money ran out.  Governments felt that there were more politically and economically pressing concerns, and space flight became very much a science-driven, unmanned affair with the exception of the Shuttle.  And now we have Ares / Orion being cancelled for being over-budget, late and reliant on old technology, and one wonders whether we’re going through the same sort of thing again.

For a President who is supposed to have vision, I’m afraid that Obama is currently looking pretty short sighted on this one. I totally appreciate that the US (like the rest of us) has some significant budgetary issues to deal with.  But the ongoing silliness of bailing out banks and large businesses does nothing for national confidence or vision.  It benefits bankers, stockholders and the wealthy.  It reminds the rest of us across the world that we’re regarded as the ‘bank of last resort’ – you can always whip the public purse for a bit more money.  Sure, we can look up to the skies, but all we’ll be seeing are the towering office blocks of the unacceptable face of capitalism that got us in to this mess.

Now, more than any other time in the last 30 years, we need a lead from the US in terms of something with vision and the potential for achievement for all mankind.  The human race enters the 21st Century full of fear – of terrorism, economic crash, ecological disaster.   Whilst it’s definite that renewed and invigorted investment in space exploration won’t do anything immediate to resolve any of these problems, it offers the possibility of enhanced technical fixes for the future, the possibility of a unified global approach the universe beyond our atmosphere and,  probably most important of all, a sense of hope.

We have no heroes today; we have no explorers of world renown that show that the human race is indeed made of ‘the right stuff’.  We’re expected to pay our taxes which currently go to pay for bailing out banks and repaying national debt foisted on us by feckless governments who’re trying to Govern the world of today with the attitudes of the mid-20th Century.  We have Governments mired in control-freakery, who look towards ‘wars on terror’ and ‘wars on drugs’ as means of burying large amounts of economic production that might otherwise be used in more ambitious and adventurous ways – like space exploration.

Mars is the obvious next destination; I hope that the cancellation of Moon based projects is regarded as a facilitating move to allow more resources to be spent on Mars missions.  But my gut feel tells me that sooner or later that too will be dumped.  I understand that there are issues to deal with here on earth, but given the ability of the Governments of the world to bail out banks, develop massive and never ending weapons programmes and generally attempt to support the any number of flawed and expensive policy programmes that fail to deliver year on year, the resources are available. 

It’s just that Governments choose not to support programmes and policies that give their people hope – and not just in space.  And that is saddening and infuriating in equal measure.

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