Sep 17 2008
As the old saying goes, “The first A in NASA stands for Aeronautics.” Well, at least one speaker at the AIAA Space 2008 Conference in San Diego last week thinks it shouldn’t.
This is consistent with expectations here at 21stCenturyWaves.com because the world has changed since 1958 when NASA was formed. Two key things driving NASA’s evolution are: 1) NASA’s plans to establish bases on the Moon and later Mars, and 2) serious international interests in human spaceflight beyond LEO, including lunar bases.
The pointless, age-old squabble over using human crews vs. robotic systems is easily resolved by recognizing that both are required to “…advance and aid the establishment of human settlements on our Solar System’s planetary bodies…,” which Hingerty wisely proposes should be the “central purpose” of the new agency.
Hingerty believes that without long-term space exploration providing a clearly defined goal, future Apollo-style programs could be subject to Cold War-like influences and “once the geopolitical influence is removed or changed the human spaceflight program will lose direction…”
In fact, “geopolitical influences” are a prominent feature of every Maslow Window of the last 200 years and can indeed be expected to affect future human space exploration programs, including those likely to start in the next 5 – 7 years.
This is not to discourage Hingerty’s powerful idea, because NASA needs exploration as its central purpose. However, it is to say that geopolitical influences will inevitably interfere with major space programs, and the best counter to declining public support — when it occurs near 2025, depending on wildcards — is to strive for a measure of self-sufficiency at Moon bases or Mars ouposts at the earliest possible opportunity.
NASA would become NSEA: the “National Space Exploration Administration!”