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No Moon Missions, That’s a Relief

Ares V rocket

Ares V rocket

The rumors were true, Constellation is cancelled. No Ares 1 crew vehicle, no Ares V heavy lifter, no Altair lander. No bases on the Moon, and no human exploration of Mars. NASA is canceling the human return to the Moon.


Obviously I’m a huge fan of human space exploration. I’ve dedicated my life to it. I’ve raised my children in the certainty that they’re going to be the first humans to set foot on the surface of Mars, and I mourn the end of the Apollo program. Where’s my flying car? But I’ve also felt deeply unsettled about the Constellation program. Maybe it was the best way to reach the Moon 40 years ago, but things are different now.

As some of you know, my background is in software, where the competition is fierce. And half of this is a mental game; you win the information war in the minds of customers through FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Make your nervous customers wait, and hope that your next great solution is going to solve all their problems. Although we’re talking space exploration here, I see a parallel. Why work our tails off to go to the Moon or Mars if NASA is going to just make it happen for us?

Well they aren’t, and I’d argue that they never were. It was just a matter of time before the political parties changed, budgets tightened, and priorities shifted. It was inevitable that this would happen, and if it didn’t happen this time around, it would happen with the next shift in government. No long term goal could ever survive. And time spent waiting for NASA to make it happen was wasted time.

As the guy watching stats at Universe Today (2 million readers in January, 2009), I can guarantee that interest in space and astronomy is continuing to rise. The demand and interest is there, and thanks to the Internet, thousands of flowers are blooming as space advocacy groups are coming together to get things done – like the Mars Society, and the Planetary Society. Private companies are making human space tourism a reality, with Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures, and Bigelow Aerospace. There are privately funded prizes available for the completion of technical accomplishments, like the Google Lunar X Prize.

But with NASA handling that “back to the Moon” thing, space advocates probably thought they could relax a little.

I think that NASA has an enormous role to play in human space exploration. They have the ability to solve problems that private enterprise just doesn’t have the funds for. Sure, NASA put a man on the Moon, but it’s the trickle down technologies that we appreciate every day. Like velcro! NASA needs create the tools and technology that will enable a vibrant and healthy private space industry.

What’s the best way to extract fuel from an asteroid? How can ion engines cut down flight times? Is there a better way to make a spacesuit? What are some good materials for space elevators? What are some safer rocket fuels? How can we make rocket launches better for the environment? Is there a way to make velcro better?

They can do this through pure research, competitions, university grants, prizes, and private/government partnerships. They can team up with other governments to cut costs on the really big challenges.

And you know what’s strange? They already do this with science. NASA listens to scientists to hear their greatest challenges. “We need to see through gas and dust to see star formation and protoplanetary disks” – here’s Spitzer. “We need to see high energy regions around supermassive black holes” – that’s Fermi. “We need to know if there’s evidence of water on the surface of Mars” – that’s Spirit and Opportunity. NASA does this so well with science? Why don’t they answer questions and solve problems in the same way for space exploration? There are so many questions, and NASA can help point us in the right directions.

NASA can help me build my flying car, but I still want to choose the destination.

Don’t worry, the Moon is still there, and Mars isn’t going anywhere. And my daughter is still going to be first person to squish the sands of Mars between her toes (thanks to remote toe-sensing technology developed by NASA).

Here’s an article about the 1st man on the Moon.


Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hans-Peter Dollhopf February 4, 2010, 5:20 AM

    I mean “social science” science fiction.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell February 4, 2010, 6:00 AM

    Well, I have better things to do than argue this. I think it is a bit of a delusion to presume we can survive problems of our own making by putting a half dozen people on the moon.


  • Hans-Peter Dollhopf February 4, 2010, 8:00 AM

    “I think it is a bit of a delusion to presume we can survive problems of our own making by putting a half dozen people on the moon.

    Steven Hawking did never discuss our planetary problems cynically.

  • Dark Gnat February 4, 2010, 8:48 AM

    I’m beginning to cool off about this whole thing, and attempt to look at some positives….

    Maybe NASA should sell off the Ares/Constellation project to the highest bidder. Whatever company buys it can then take over development, and evetually begin (or extend) a LEO business, with possible lunar missions in the future. This would boost NASA’s budget and allow the launcher to carry on without being wasted.

    NASA could even rent launchpad space until the private company builds it’s own launch facility. This might also be a way to preserve jobs in Florida.

    In turn, NASA could rent the rocket from the company to launch sats, or get to the ISS.

    This way NASA gets use of the launcher, the Company gets the launcher and use of a pad, we won’t have to rely on other nations to get to space, money and jobs will remain in our economy.

    LC, I think Hans has a crush on you. :)

  • Hans-Peter Dollhopf February 4, 2010, 9:06 AM

    Not really, Dark Gnat, I just thought about what would have happened if Wernher von Braun would have been captured by LC’s grandfather.

    Maybe the first six lunar landings would never have happened. At least no “nationalistic” American ones.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell February 4, 2010, 11:24 AM

    The Apollo program was meant as a cold war display of America’s technological might. That was demonstrated and the program cancelled after 3-1/2 years and six landings. The program from a political perspective was never about setting humanity up into space, but to demonstrate to the world the supremacy of American technological power over the Soviet Union’s.


  • Hans-Peter Dollhopf February 4, 2010, 12:48 PM


    Sure, JFK was as evil as only an American president can be.

    Too much Michael Moore movies … anyone?

  • Hans-Peter Dollhopf February 4, 2010, 1:10 PM

    and, btw, the Apollo program did not display America’s technological might. In the contrary, it just helped developing it.

    Since 1969, the landing on the moon had also always a propaganda effect on the enemies of the U.S., and it is stupid to neglect the peacekeeping effect of Apollo.

    If anyone ever thought bad on America, he always also thought of the Man on the Moon. And what an achievment that was for humankind.Made in USA.

  • Bill Samson February 4, 2010, 11:41 PM

    I may have missed this on the way through the comments, but how exactly will astronauts get to the ISS after the Shuttle goes? Oh yes – 60-year-old Russian technology. Good job they’re friendly right now.

    [ Who would have thought that Koriolev’s launch vehicles would still be going strong long after Von Braun’s are a distant memory?]

    OTOH Obama maybe has no plans to continue US collaboration on the ISS.

  • Paul Eaton-Jones February 5, 2010, 6:17 AM

    As Hans-Peter Dolhopf says:- “If anyone ever thought bad on America, he always also thought of the Man on the Moon. And what an achievment that was for humankind.Made in USA.”. As a Briton I can only endorse that. I posted above that America is still the only country with the economic muscle and young-nation spirit to undertake the BIG space projects. Sure, there many things we outside of the USA dislike – The Bush Doctrine/the assumed ‘our might is right’ ethos etc – but no one has come close to matching the contributions made by NASA. [Korolyev was virtually working single-handedly and had immense bureacratic hurdles to overcome so I suppose he comes a close second ].

  • Lawrence B. Crowell February 5, 2010, 11:40 AM

    I thought I would come back here to see what has taken place. The discussion has turned from science and technological practicality to nationalistic and political persiflage. I mention the Apollo program was done as a cold war demonstration of superior power, which was the case, and this gets turned into some statement on my behalf as bashing the US of A.

    I will confess that I am not a partisan of hyper-nationalism, and think it usually leads to some sort of disaster.

    At any rate, which is most likely to insure our survival? The first is that we put a small lunar base up. The second is we start to clean up our act here on Earth? Remember, this is about surviving the next century and at least maybe a few beyond that, and not about astronomical or cosmological time scales.


  • Mr. Man February 5, 2010, 1:11 PM

    LC, the Lunar base would be a stepping stone for greater things. They wouldn’t repeat apollo, Constellation was about a permanent presence on the moon, which would build up our confidence in our own technology to move ahead from there. I’m not really sure how nationalism entered the arguement. But since a little nationalism helped start apollo then I think it’s safe to say that a moderate amount is ok if it helps spur on future progress (ie: If US and China compete to get to the moon that only means we will all get there faster). Anyway I think Stephan Hawking has some very good pionts; I would fall into his criteria for I find manned missions that advance our presence in space as fascinating (and necessary). With robotic missions, I recognize their importance for data, but if that data does not advance our cause in space then it interests me only minimally.

    Mr. Man

  • Greg February 5, 2010, 11:30 PM

    LC is a splendid example of how a European socialist thinks. Narow-minded and self-interested. What can the government take from someone else and give to me? The strength of America is that it did not follow in the footsteps of their European forefathers. They had the spirit of young independent explorers and it made them better. Now we see how the ravages of time and excess of power have taken their toll. That defining spirit is gone for more and more which was America’s stength. More people talk about what can’t be done and wonder what more the government can give to them rather than give to everyone by funding exploratory research and technology projects that provate industry cannot afford. I am amazed at how few people on this website have acted dismayed and distraught by this development. Are they too unscientific to understand it’s true implications for the future? America has lost its way and is dissociating from its roots that defined it and made it strong.

  • Hans-Peter Dollhopf February 6, 2010, 2:11 AM

    LC says, that “it is a bit of a delusion to presume we can survive problems of our own making by putting a half dozen people on the moon”

    What proplems of our own exactly?


    from the English Wiki: “In the U.S., consumers spend approximately US$1 trillion annually on food, [3] or nearly 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Over 16.5 million people are employed in the food industry.” Damn!


    Wiki again: “In the year 2000, there were 76.6 million students enrolled in schools from kindergarten through graduate schools. …
    Among the country’s adult population, over 85 percent have completed high school and 27 percent have received a bachelor’s degree or higher.”

    Sickness and desease?

    “In 2007, the U.S. spent $2.26 trillion on health care, or $7,439 per person, up from $2.1 trillion, or $7,026 per capita, the previous year.”

    As LC can see, we work hard on our problems on earth day by day.

  • Hr. J. Ceasar February 7, 2010, 12:09 AM

    And you know what is the real joke? These companies are American, there is no future for them. When the dollar falls these companies will be sold off in order to keep American soil american instead of Chineese. America has sold there souls, just to keep buying stuff,…

    America did not get these bizar large debst by fighting a regional war or 2, they got into this mess because the population thinks they can spend every cent they earn… never realising that the money in there hands is chinese, who rent the money to the company’s these people work for. But instead of saving up, the spend that money to.

    This is no problem until someone wants there money back.. and be sure they will come. I’m sorry America, its all just a matter of time.

    Well maybe Obama has a trick up his sleeve, you americans are always in for a stunning comeback… good luck