OK, so I read this essay by Lou Friedman, and what’s obvious to me, and completely not so to him, is the reason that he and others have made so little headway in selling human space flight. It’s because they continue to use the wrong reason. He uses the word “exploration” a dozen times, by my count. Not once does he use the words “development,” “exploitation,” “colonization,” “settlement.” Once you agree that the purpose of human spaceflight is mere exploration as an end, and not as a means, you completely cede the rhetorical field to the robots, as he points out himself:
Unlike in the 1980s, the lack of new accomplishments in human exploration will be paralleled by the greater accomplishments in robotic exploration. And the danger is that the public will join those politicians who say, “Save money, let the robots do it.”
Hey, if all we’re doing is “exploring,” then count me in with the robots, at least if we’re going to insist on doing human exploration the way we did it in the sixties, and the way that many insist that we continue to do so, including Lou himself:
…we can’t even seem to develop the rockets to take us beyond what we achieved four decades ago.
Lou, if you want to see humans go beyond earth orbit for any purpose at all, including exploration, go write on the board five hundred times, “We don’t need new rockets.”
[Update a few minutes later]
One other amusing point:
Looking at the political history of US human space flight decisions, the only two positive ones were based on international (or more precisely, geopolitical) considerations. They were Kennedy’s decision to take on the Soviets in a race to the Moon, and Clinton’s decision to engage the Russians in the International Space Station. (The shuttle decision by Nixon resulted in a flight program, to be sure, but was a negative decision to ratchet back space objectives and not let NASA build a space station or go beyond Earth orbit). It is also worthwhile to note that neither of these Presidents was interested in space science or exploration.
While it’s true, he writes this as though there has ever been a president interested in space science or exploration. There never has been, and there likely (barring some weird political accident) never will be. The kinds of people interested in those things are unlikely to become president. The closest politician I can think of with that kind of interest, with the slightest chance of becoming president, is Newt Gingrich. And he’s not actually particularly interested in space science or exploration. What he’s interested in is…wait for it…space development.