Another View: Quantifying America’s Changing Interest in Space Travel


The popularity of every Star Wars and Star Trek show on television streaming services shows just how far Americans have come to “boldly go where no man has gone.” But 53 years after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, our excitement has waxed and waned over the ups and downs of real-world space exploration orchestrated by NASA.

Engineers and technicians built the James Webb Space Telescope in 1998. November 2, 2016 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Earlier this month, NASA released the first set of images from the telescope, photos that wowed viewers. Alex Wong / Getty Images / TNS

Take a look at the latest news stories that alternately capture our attention spans or are mostly greeted with yawns.

Earlier this month, NASA released the first set of images from the James Webb Space Telescope, photos that wowed onlookers (although there were more than a few who compared recent views of these celestial bodies to a shrouded swath). The price tag for those photos? Nearly $11 billion and counting, and Americans are divided on whether it was money well spent. In a recent poll, 60 percent of respondents said the telescope was a good investment, while 40 percent were unsure or thought it wasn’t worth it.

The possibility of aliens dumping debris on the moon raised eyebrows in March when NASA released photos of an unusual double rock left by a breakup on the far side of the moon. The ho-hum came when it was revealed that it may have been part of a Chinese rocket that was launched in 2014. It ended up falling from space and landing on the moon instead of burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere as planned. China denies this. But has China ever admitted a mistake?

The news was made on June 28 by a spacecraft called CAPSTONE, built by several NASA contractors and owned by a private company called Advanced Space. After a four-month journey, CAPSTONE will orbit the Moon for six months to collect data important to future lunar missions. The $30 million project reminds us that while the private sector is doing more and more of what NASA has been trying to do on its own, space exploration still isn’t cheap.

The Trump administration has mandated that NASA return to the moon by 2024, but multiple funding and development delays have made that goal elusive. SpaceX, owned by Tesla founder Elon Musk, took $2.9 billion to develop the Artemis lunar landing system, which NASA hopes will put humans on the moon for the first time since 1972. Built for the Apollo program, each cost $23 billion in today’s dollars.

NASA contractors are building various parts of the lunar space station, which it calls Gateway. It will have docking ports for visiting spacecraft and areas where crews can live and work. The space agency is paying companies $935 million to build the Gateway habitat and $375 million to make the propulsion unit. However, some estimates say nearly $4 billion will be spent on Gateway before the project is completed.

Whether that kind of money stays with NASA or goes to Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Horizon, the taxpayers who foot the bill must continue to ask whether manned space exploration is still too expensive. NASA has many missions in which the only human involvement is long distance from Earth. Should he continue to pay high prices to send people when expensive machines can travel for much less? In most cases, automatic detectors and other automated machines can do the job.

For almost 50 years, the Moon was not a target for human flight because the return cost was not considered worthwhile. Even now, lunar demand is being used as a basis for sending a new man to Mars. The Red Planet has become an enigma that hangs before Congress every year to sway NASA’s budget approval. Spreading the cost over several years does not mean the end of space exploration. It may take a long time, but as Einstein explained, time is relative.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you enter your account email, we’ll send an email with a reset code.

« Previous


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *