NASA’s decades-long success at enabling ground-breaking discoveries about our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, our origins and the billions of other planets out there is one of the crown jewels of our nation’s collective inventiveness and will, and surely of our global soft power.
Others have of course made major contributions as well. But from the Viking Mars landings of the 1970s on to the grand space observatories Hubble and Spitzer and Chandra, to the planetary explorations such as Cassini (Saturn), Galileo and Juno (Jupiter), New Horizons (Pluto and beyond) and Curiosity (Mars), to the pioneering exoplanet census of Kepler, the myriad spacecraft enhancing our understanding of our own planet and the sun, and the pipeline confidently filled with of missions to come, NASA has been the consistent and essential world leader.
What we know of our world writ large has just exploded in these decades, and we’re far richer for it.
But of late, the future of these efforts to ever expand our knowledge of the logic and make-up of our universe has become worryingly unclear.
First there are the recently revealed new problems with the James Webb Space Telescope, initially scheduled to launch years ago and now reportedly unlikely to meet its launch date next year. It is also over budget again and under serious threat.
This news came as Congress wrestled with the White House decision to scuttle the WFIRST dark energy, planet and star formation, and exoplanet mission, planned as NASA’s major flagship mission of the 2020s.
And perhaps most worrisome, NASA now wants to fold its Space Technology Mission Directorate into the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, surely to support the administration’s goal of setting up a human colony on the moon.
This is an Apollo-sized, many-year and very costly effort that would have to take funds away from potential space science missions unless the NASA budget was growing substantially. But the proposed 2019 NASA budget would cap spending for the next four years.
Might our Golden Era of space discovery be winding down?
First the JWST situation. The telescope, far more powerful and complex than anything sent into space, is expected to open up new understandings about the origins of the universe, xxx, and exoplants.… Read more