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« Who Cares? | Main | This Time For Sure »

Ron Wyden Wants To Go To Mars

The current chairman of the Senate committee that oversees NASA authorization made the following statement.

I want to recapture the vision of John F. Kennedy's commitment to putting a man on the moon by 1970. Today, it is not enough to endlessly circle the Earth in low orbit. NASA should set the goal of putting a person on Mars and work with Congress to set a date to do it. But the aim must be to reach Mars both safely and cost-effectively, or not at all.

Of course, he did it in the context of an overall statement that NASA must get its finances and management house in order before such a thing can be seriously contemplated. And of course, he may not be the chairman next year...

And a rerun of Apollo would be daft. Apollo set us back decades--I'd hate to think of the effect of Apollo to Mars.

[Update at 2:44 PM PDT]

Mark Whittington has some further interesting thoughts on this.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 09, 2002 09:47 AM
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I wonder where Ron was during the eight years of Clinton or, come to think of it, during Bush Sr. who believed the same thing.

I agree with you about the folly of an all out assault on Mars. On the other hand, a program of lunar exploration, directed to-say-prospect for resources around the poles and to test technologies that would support a lunar settlement, could probably be done for about a billion a year (and I get that figure by doubling the estimate NASA gave in a 1996 study.)

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at May 9, 2002 11:55 AM

He hasn't actually been in the Senate all that long. He's a first (full) termer in the Senate.

I don't know what he was doing as a House member.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 9, 2002 12:56 PM

Wyden was a House member from 1981 through 1996. He was elected to serve the rest of Packwood's term in 1996 (you know, the politician who actually lost his office for attacking women.)

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at May 9, 2002 02:16 PM

If Ron Wyden wants to go to Mars, by all means SEND HIM (one way).

Posted by Dave Lonborg at May 10, 2002 12:36 AM

Doesn't the phrase "But the aim must be to reach Mars both safely and cost-effectively, or not at all." strike anyone else as weasel words?

I am reminded of the National Nuclear Depository in Nevada - it must be stored with 100% safety - or not at all.

In one breath this guy calls upon the spirit of JFK to revitalize NASA, and then in the next breath gives us the bureaucratic courage we've come to expect from the Pointy Haired Boss.

Posted by Brian at May 10, 2002 10:45 AM

Well, I'm all in favor of the "cost effective" goal. That's been sadly lacking in much of our space activities. But I agree that a desire for safety is definitionally incompatible with exploration.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 10, 2002 11:20 AM

I would cite the human genome effort as reason enough to let the market run this. Independant research finished the human genome project 8 fullyears before the government's own efort estimated it could do it. If there exist sufficient economic justifications to go there, independants could get there faster, better and sooner than NASA. And if insufficient economic reasons exist why should we be in such a hurry to get there? If you want fun and excitement in space go see Star Wars. If you want meaningful exploration and travel create a economically viable reason to go there. If there is money to be made you can bet that there will be plenty of businesses going for it. As a mater of fact if there are such reasons to go I suspect that the mere existance of NASA would be a strong disincentive for the private sector to go.

Posted by jim at May 10, 2002 03:31 PM

Jim, I tend to agree that a private model for space exploration would be good. Certainly, this is the only way that sustainable human presence in space will be a reality. The main problem is getting the capital. NASA's spin doctors have skewed the world's notions of spaceflight to the point where it is almost impossible for most people to distinguish between reality and NASA fantasy. In order to get the capital needed for a mission to Mars, it will first be necessary to discredit most of NASA's claims about human space flight.

If we wait for it to be "safe" to go to Mars, it will never happen. But we can certainly do much to get people to realize that most of the "show-stoppers" NASA talks about are really just hype, and can be overcome with the proper expertise and research.

Posted by James at May 11, 2002 10:07 AM

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