Zubrin and Spudis to NASA: Pick a Destination, Any Destination!

Bob Zubrin is from Mars and Paul Spudis is from Luna, but there’s one thing they both agree on: NASA’s new human spaceflight policy sucks.

Writing in The Washington Times, Mars Society President Zubrin and Spudis, author of “The Once and Future Moon,” put aside their differences on where NASA should go first to urge the agency to focus on at least one destination:

For 50 years, America has maintained this ability through an infrastructure of cutting-edge industrial hardware, specialized facilities and a skilled work force. By adopting the new program, we will lose – probably irretrievably – this space-faring infrastructure and, most certainly, our highly trained, motivated and experienced work force. It will be prohibitively expensive and difficult to restart our manned program after five to 10 years of agency navel-gazing, effectively signaling the end of America’s manned space program and our leadership in space.

NASA falters without specific direction or a stated destination. The history of the agency is replete with research projects disconnected from flight missions that produced no real hardware or technology. Taking five years (or even one year) to “study” the technologies of a heavy-lift rocket is not only pointless – it is destructive. We currently possess all the knowledge, technology and infrastructure necessary to build a heavy-lift launch vehicle.

Their recommendation is to stay the course: continue to build Constellation, move forward with the Vision for Space Exploration, and give up the idea of commercial human spaceflight.

I generally agree with the idea of specific deadlines and destinations. However, they have to be achievable ones, and that’s been the main problem with the Vision. I also doubt that we have anything near the infrastructure to support such a goal. That will take years of research.

The authors – like most opponents of the Obama Administration’s proposed policy – ignore the Augustine Committee’s report and the complex programmatic and fiscal realities it illuminated. They also do not address why we have spent $9 billion building a rocket that only goes to LEO. Or why a company with a 50 year legacy like ULA that is launch valuable Air Force spacecraft can’t perform the same role for NASA.