The President’s budget is due to be released tomorrow, February 1, and the objectives he puts forward for the future of the American human space program will be applauded by some but condemned by others within the space advocacy community. A political fight between the executive and legislative branches will no doubt ensue, the outcome of which may not be known until next autumn.
Despite our shared goals to venture again past low Earth orbit and for the United States to remain a leader in human space flight, the space advocacy community is fractured and ineffective. Because of the decades long disunity, brought on by an inability of space advocates to compromise in the name of shared broader goals, today no single space advocacy group has a meaningful outreach to voters. If the status quo antebellum of space advocacy disunity remains, the decisions to cancel our return to the Moon, how to venture past low Earth orbit, and a myriad of other issues influencing this nation’s human space flight program will be made without the input or consensus of the Americans who support it. Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Now is the time for the space advocacy community to stand united, to forget its past divisions and come together, with a common message of support for our nation’s place as the preemeninant leader in human space exploration. Otherwise, we will continue the repetitive circles of non-accomplishment toward venturing beyond low Earth orbit.
On the day that President Bush announced the Vision For Space Exploration, most in the space community celebrated that, finally, a President was backing a firm goal to explore beyond low earth orbit. What changed this unity within our community? Over time, as the details of Project Constellation became more clear, many in the space advocacy community began to act as though NASA’s demise would be to the betterment of our nation’s human space flight program. Perhaps it is the case that NASA’s transparency in managing Constellation, as compared to the opaqueness that was Projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, has revealed too much about the inner workings of the organization that is designing, engineering, and bending metal into hardware. If the space community of the 1960’s had this lack of unity, we would have never succeeded in successfully completing Project Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, launching the Saturn V or fulfilling Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the Moon and returning him safely. Better options may alway be available, but if we allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good and thereby fail to succeed at any of our initiatives, then we will accomplish nothing but erosion from within, a shedding of our leadership, and a failure to inspire our own citizens and youth.
It is clear that the White House and some in Congress realize the disunity in the space advocacy community. The result is that every new Administration feels no political risk at reinventing our human space flight program. This time, we must draw a line in the sand and together ensure that there will be political consequences to those who tamper meaninglessly with our nation’s human space flight program. We must commit unwavering support for NASA, for Project Constellation, and for a shared direction in human spaceflight that has been affirmed by Congress repeatedly since 2005. Only in this way may we be a catalyst for long-term stability and success of our nation’s human space flight program. When the dust does settle from the coming political battle, we must put aside our disparate opinions and unite behind our space program so that we break the repetitive cycle of reinventing the wheel.
The AmericaSpace Team