Charlie Brown or Snoopy: America’s Future in Space Hangs in the Balance

As the Apollo 10 crew walks along a corridor on the way to Launch Complex 39B, mission commander Thomas P. Stafford pats the nose of Snoopy, the mission’s mascot, held by Jamye Flowers, astronaut Gordon Coopers’ secretary. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

This week, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the flight of Apollo 10, the final mission before the first manned landing on the moon by Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.

During the 8-day voyage, Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan took the lunar module (LM) to within 47,400 feet (14.4 km) of the lunar surface before rendezvousing with the command service module (CSM) piloted by John Young.

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Previous Administration’s Promises to Return to the Moon

For anyone who forgot or is too young to remember, both Bush administrations launched programs to return American astronauts to the moon and send them off to Mars. The first plan was announced on July 20, 1989 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The second was unveiled 15 years later on Jan. 14, 2004, just under a year after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia.

Past isn’t necessarily prologue. NASA is in better shape to do something at the moon than is at the time when these two initiatives were unveiled. I would put forth the following reasons for optimism.

NASA is making progress on SLS and Orion, which are the two legacy systems from the second Bush Administration’s plan. No, they’re not the cheapest or most optimal vehicles to base the plan on, but there seems to be no appetite in the Trump Administration for a bruising battle with Congress over canceling them. Deal with it.

The commercial sector has grown substantially. NASA learning how to work with private companies on a partnership basis. And launch costs have been reduced due to SpaceX’s innovation on reusable vehicles.

Enormous amount of expertise has been accumulated on the International Space Station. The station’s international partners are eying the moon as the next step beyond ISS.

So, the conditions are there for venturing out to the moon. The question is whether the money will be there as well. Even with the participation of commercial space companies, NASA will need an executable plan and the funding to support it.

New NASA Administrator Names: Bridenstine, Griffin, Collins & Albrecht

Rep. Jim Bridenstine
Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is a leading candidate  to replace Charlie Bolden as the new NASA Administrator when President Barack Obama’s term ends in January.

“He’s made it clear to the campaign that if asked to serve as NASA Administrator or Air Force secretary, he would be willing,” the official said. The person added that there would likely be “a clearer path to NASA” than the Air Force.

Other names that have been circulated include: former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who served under President George W. Bush; former astronaut Collins, who spoke during the Republican National Convention in support of Trump; and space veteran Mark Albrecht, who served as executive secretary of the National Space Council under President George H.W. Bush.

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