Today there will be much celebrating about Apollo’s 50th anniversary — on the National Mall, there is a whole bunch of celebrations happening, and of course there is the Saturn 5 on the Washington Monument.
But among these celebrations, there is some debate happening about what is the future of human spaceflight. Of course people know of the Administration’s proposed return to the Moon plan. But what is a progressive vision of space? I have heard nothing from our nominees. What do the various candidates think about space? Today is the day to tell us their vision, but nothing from any of them. I’d love to hear something from Senator Warren, Senator Harris, Vice President Biden, Mayor Pete, Senator Sanders, or any of the other candidates. But we have nothing. And that worries me.
Turning to Congress, on the House side, there were recently 2 hearings about space. One was on the future of the International Space Station (ISS) and the second was on the historical significance of Apollo. Both were enlightening, but also concern me. The one on ISS seemed to suggest that we should keep doing our LEO activity as we’ve always done it, and that the only reason commercial industry was interested in it was for space tourism. And while talking about the historical significance of the Apollo program is interesting, it tended to buy into all of the traditional hype, about spinoffs, and inspiration, but ignoring the fact that by focusing on intangible value, it’s hard to justify space activity. Space flight, particularly human spaceflight, can and should provide tangible practical value. I want space to be about more than just science exploration, or only available to the heroic men and women of the U.S. astronaut corp.
Then there were a couple of op-Ed's that were recently posted — one by Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator for NASA under President Obama, and a piece in Wired by Safi Bahcall. Ms. Garver’s piece talked about how climate change was the crisis of our time, and how NASA can/should play a role in that. And Dr. Bahcall’s piece talked about transforming NASA into the Bell Labs of space activity. Both I think have strong value in developing a progressive view of space activity.
When you talk to the progressive community, we have opinions on many issues, and it runs the gambit — economic policy and inequality, climate change, racism and social justice, just to name a few. But what is our future in space? That does not exists, not by a long shot.
We need to answer this question, or we’ll miss the opportunities of space.