America’s Long Journey Away From the Moon

In a brief essay, America’s Long Journey Away From the Moon and Mars, about the President’s new human spaceflight program, Craig Nelson of the Wall Street Journal states his case for why 2010 is not the year that Americans will get excited about human space flight.

Nelson is a little shy…no, very light, on his facts. For one, he cites George H. W. Bush’s human Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) and notes, “Like Constellation, this, too, was never adequately funded”. Right…that might be because Bush Sr.’s Space Exploration Initiative was never a program. No sooner had President Bush proposed his program in 1989, during a ceremony at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, when such forward-looking people as Senator Al Gore called it DOA at the doors of Congress.

We would also take issue with Nelson’s analysis that space will not be an issue in 2010 based on what we saw during the 2008 campaign, when then-candidate Obama recommended delaying (really, killing) Constellation in order to pay for one of his education initiatives. Space had not been a real political issue since 1960, 48 years earlier. But in 2008, space became a real political issue, enough of an issue in fact for candidate Obama to reverse course 180-degrees and come out in full support of human space flight during a Titusville, Florida event on August 2, 2008, during which he promised to close the Shuttle-Constellation gap, among others. Yes, yes, we know that the President has since re-triangulated on the issue of space.

This is not to say that space will be all of the political talk in northern Wisconsin, West Texas, or the baubled halls of San Francisco. But in some states, such as Florida, the issue of space support resonates. And Florida just happens to be one of those key states either Party must carry to win or keep (Mr. President, do you get that?) the White House.

But Nelson does raise an issue that goes to the heart of the current trouble for NASA’s human space flight program–lack of consistent public support demanding full-funding of our nation’s human space flight efforts. Perhaps it is because the American people, despite the cynicism of the last few decades, still expect their Congressional representatives to…well, lead, to do their jobs without daily reminders from the voters that some things are simply to be done because those efforts are an intrinsic part of ensuring a strong America, not only for today, for generations to come.

Initially, Nelson misquoted out of context comments made at another time and context by Dr. Paul Spudis. Dr. Spudis protested and Nelson relented, removing the comments. Still, as far as I know, the Wall Street Journal has not given Dr. Spudis the forum to state his view that he requested. Now that might be an interesting essay.

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