RE: "NASA Ends Project Intended to Replace Shuttle"

Date: Sat Mar 03 2001 - 13:22:53 MST

I read the news of the Bush budget axe falling so heavily on NASA with a
feeling of sadness, but also of resignation. The simple fact is that the
national space programs of the Cold War period simply can't persist in the
contemporary world, and that broad social support for "pure" space science
isn't strong enough to sustain a large space exploration effort. Even the
emotional support for the sheer adventure of manned space activities has
largely evaporated outside of the "space enthusiast" community. As Michael
Butler pointed out, attempts to make a go of access to space outside of the
traditional national space programs that seemed to have so much promise just
a few years ago have all proved quixotic in the extreme.

I've come to the conclusion that the sooner the different elements of the
space exploration and development community come to the realization that the
"old game" is over, the better. A LOT of energy has been wasted on trying to
salvage elements of the Cold War space programs and develop incremental
evolutionary pathways that build on what is left of them. In this regard, I
feel that ideas like Robert Zubrin's are exactly the wrong kind of program to
be proposing at this time. Trying to hitch one's wagon to the current
machinery of space access and infrastructure -- such as it is -- is a
prescription for wasted time, effort and money, because any such plans will
inevitably be built on the requirement of continuing political support for
NASA. NASA's mandate is, in my opinion, irretrievably confused by the
political process, having been since the end of the Cold War a hodge-podge
rationalization based on whatever opportunity of the moment its
administrators can conjure out of the political swamp in Washington.

Rather than wasting energy by trying to revive the now decaying remains of
the original national space programs, I feel a much more fruitful approach
would be to begin work on designing and planning for a program of space
exploration and development premised on technologies we ought to have
available for that enterprise within the next ten years. There are certainly
seeds of such an approach scattered throughout the space science and
technology communities. People working on micro-sats and fleet architectures
for them are definitely on the right track. The approach being taken for
their solar sail platform by the Planetary Society is also very promising.
What's missing is a unifying vision for creating a space infrastructure that
isn't so completely dependent on NASA and doesn't require the unreliable
support of a political world that has no appreciation for the enterprise of
moving beyond this one planet. In this regard, designing and building some
basic building blocks for creating space infrastructure out of very small and
light elements should be a high priority, as well as developing reliable and
robust self-assembling systems.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:39 MDT