Reading about some of the views coming from the man recently nominated to become NASA’s Administrator, Rep. James Bridenstine of Oklahoma, I heard the sound of a door closing.
Other doors will surely be opened if he is confirmed by the Senate, but that shutting door happens to be to the gateway to a realm that has engrossed and nurtured me and clearly many millions of Americans.
What is happening, I fear, is that our Golden Age of space science, of exploration for the sake of expanding humanity’s knowledge and wonder, is about to wind down. The James Webb Space Telescope will (probably) still be launched, and missions to Europa and Mars are on the books. But to be a Golden Age there must be an on-going vision for the future building on what has been accomplished.
When it comes to space science, that clearly takes strong government support and taxpayer money. And if what I’m reading is correct, a lot of that future NASA funding for exploring and understanding the grand questions of space science will be going instead to setting up and maintaining that colony on the moon.
And the goals Bridenstine appears to have in mind when he speaks of setting up a moon colony are decidedly military, strategic and commercial. As when Vice President Mike Pence spoke to NASA workers at the Kennedy Space Center to telegraph the Trump Administration’s space vision, space science is essentially an afterthought.
Media coverage of the Bridenstine selection has tended to focus on the fact that he’s a politician and that he has earlier been quite critical of climate change science.
But what concerns me most are his views about space science in general. Because with the money and focus a major moon colony project would take, NASA’s space science initiatives run the risk of returning to the back seat they occupied in the agency’s earlier days.… Read more