Some thoughts from Jim Oberg.
This slow-motion policy train wreck has been going on for years. Decades, in fact. We knew back in 1986 that we needed a more robust transportation architecture, but we trusted NASA to fix it when it just wasn’t up to the job, and never will be. Jobs have always been more important than space, and that will remain the case until space becomes important again, as it was briefly in the early sixties. The only way out is to promote competition and market development in the private sector, which is finally starting to happen with the new policy, if Congress doesn’t screw it up (again). What is so frustrating is that if we’d had sensible plans for the VSE five years ago, and Bush hadn’t allowed Mike Griffin to copulate with the chihuahua for this past half decade, we’d be very close to not having a gap at all.
[Update a while later]
In hindsight, if the goal of Apollo had been to open up the space frontier, rather than a crash program to send half a dozen astronauts to the lunar surface, it would have been better to state as a goal that we would establish an affordable and sustainable transportation infrastructure to and from the moon. As it happens, that was in fact what George W. Bush proposed four and a half years ago in the Vision for Space Exploration, but NASA apparently missed the memo. But that never was the goal of Apollo. The goal of Apollo was to simply prove that a democratic socialist state enterprise was technologically superior to a totalitarian one. Once we had beaten the Soviets to the moon, it was mission accomplished, and no need to go back. The remaining missions after Apollo XI were simply programmatic inertia, using up the hardware after the production was shut down in 1967, when it became clear that we were going to win.
The problem was that, as already noted, Apollo cost a lot of money. So much so that after landing only six crews, we flew the last mission thirty-six years ago, and shelved the technology that enabled us to achieve it, because it wasn’t providing an economic return commensurate with the cost to the taxpayer. In fact, it spurred a new use of the phrase among frustrated space enthusiasts. Since 1972, they’ve been able to ask “If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we send a man to the moon?” The answer is that we couldn’t afford to continue to do so, at least not the way we’d been doing it (which is a reason why NASA’s plan to redo Apollo, pretty much the same way, will likely not be sustainable, either). To use Apollo as a model for the provision of our most vital commodity — energy — would be economically ruinous.
Emphasis mine. Did I call it, or what?