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NASA needs a mission that inspires



Submitted by Arthur with permission of the E-T

NASA needs a mission that inspires
 
 By   Ken Johnson
 
   When  NASA  says  its  "best and brightest" are working to find out
what
caused the Columbia tragedy, I am not encouraged.
   Why? Because the best and brightest don't work for NASA anymore.
   People  of  a scientific or engineering bent who want to be the best
put
themselves  where  the  action is. They want to change the world, to make
a
difference, to do what everyone says is impossible.
   The  impossible  no  longer  happens at NASA. The space agency lacks
the
money, and sadly, the vision, to strive for what people say can't be
done.
   Once,  NASA did the impossible and the best and brightest were lining
up
to  be  part  of  history. The moon program that ran through the Gemini
and
Apollo  missions  of  the  1960s  and  1970  ranks  among  the 
spectacular
achievements  of  the  human race. We left the place that gave us birth
and
walked on another world.
   While  we  are doing amazing things with our unmanned deep-space
probes,
our manned space program is a mess. Space shuttles fly essentially the
same
orbits  that  John  Glenn  flew  on our first manned orbital flight. We
are
spending  tens of billions on a space station to repeat experiments done
10
years ago by the Russians on Mir.
   How  uninspiring  is  our  current  manned  space  program? Consider
the
following thought experiment:
   Imagine  the  earth  reduced  to  the  size of a 12-inch diameter
globe.
That's  something  we  can  hold  in  our  hands.  We  can  relate  to 
its
proportions.
   On  this  scale, the moon is about the size of a softball. It orbits
the
globe at a distance of about 10 yards.
   Where,  on  this  scale,  are our multibillion-dollar space shuttles
and
space station? The real shuttles orbit at an average of 200 miles above
the
earth.  In  our model, that means they skim along the globe about
one-third
of a inch above its surface.
   The  space  station  is  a little farther out | 300 miles. In the
model,
it's about a half-inch above the globe.
   This is not the stuff of which dreams are made.
   I  have  always  been  a strong supporter of manned space flight. But
to
continue what we are doing now is a waste of resources | and lives.
   Our  manned  space  program  lacks  a vision, a goal that will rally
the
public to its support and bring back the best and brightest.
   We ought to commit to returning to the moon and establishing a
permanent
base  there.  We  could  realistically achieve this in 10 years. Why do
it?
Because the moon can be a rich source of minerals and raw materials for
the
next step | on to Mars. We could land a human on Mars within 25 years.
   Either  of  these  programs  would  be expensive. But they are
important
enough  and dramatic enough to win the support of the American people.
They
are ambitions worthy of a great nation.
   Columbus  set  sail  from  Spain and discovered the New World. After
his
return,  did Spaniards spend their time sailing in the safe waters of
their
own coast? No. They returned, again and again, and others followed.
   That's  what  we need to do. To go back to the moon and beyond.
Anything
that does not move us in that direction is not worth doing.
   Mars awaits. It isn't that far. In our small-scale model, the Red
Planet
is about the size of a cantaloupe a mile away.
   Mars  is  a  whole  world waiting to be explored. It could be
humanity's second home.
   Let's go.
 
   Ken  Johnson  is  editorial  page editor of The Eagle-Tribune,
Lawrence, Mass.
 
 
 

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