13 November 2008
Today the Planetary Society released a “roadmap” for space exploration, detailing what the Society thinks NASA’s priorities and programs should look like in the near future. It is the product of input from the public as well as closed-door meetings of space exploration experts. I encourage you to take a look at the pdf.
The plan outlined in the “Beyond the Moon” document is well thought out and feasible, and is notable in that it de-emphasizes human exploration of the moon. Instead, the Society favors missions to the Earth’s Lagrange points (where future telescopes will be parked) and near-Earth Objects (NEOs), followed by missions to Mars. Lunar missions are not removed from the plan, but would only happen if deemed necessary within the greater goals of the program.
At first when I read this I was against it. I want moon bases! But then I realized the strategy behind this recommendation. It puts the focus on pushing frontiers and eventually sending humans to Mars. By de-emphasizing the moon and playing up new achievements in human spaceflight, this plan would avoid the potential for getting bogged down on the moon and ending up stagnating there. Also, I think the case for sending people to NEOs is quite good: they are a potential source of resources, and they are the most likely objects to threaten Earth with a major impact. It makes sense to go check them out and prove to ourselves that we can send a mission to a NEO before the future of the Earth depends on it!
The timing of this document release is no coincidence. I suspect that as I speak, copies of the document are being sent to president-elect Obama’s transition team. The document reads as if it were written for Obama and his advisers, and I strongly suspect that’s the case. Everyone in the space community is anxiously waiting to see what an Obama administration means for NASA, and it’s quite possible that this report will have an influence. Or it might not. We just have to wait and see…