Saturday, July 01, 2006

Thanks For Nothing, Planetary Society.

The Planetary Society is trumpeting as a success the House Appropriations Committee's recent endorsement of more funding to space science. (Here.) The committee is restoring $75 million to space science, including money for the Europa robotic mission among others. Aeronautics gets $100 million back.

To achieve this result $151 million was cut from NASA's space exploration budget. Exploration Systems Research and Technology lost $135 million. Constellation Systems lost $16 million. (Here.)

No biggie, though. ESRT just pays for things like Centennial Challenges, Robotic Lunar Exploration, Prometheus, and other "technologies and capabilities that will make the national vision for space exploration possible." (Here, p. SUM 1-9.) Constellation Systems pays for things like development of the Crew Exploration and Crew Launch Vehicles and "the collection of systems that will enable sustained human exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond." (Here, p. SUM 1-8.)

So, the Planetary Society's victory restored funding for more robots but at the cost of reduced funding for projects designed to develop the new infrastructure for manned space flights to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

In their defense, Planetary Society members might say that the real problem is that NASA still funds the shuttle to the tune of $4 billion per year. In fact, the Planetary Society came out early in 2006 in favor of discontinuing the shuttle. (Here.)

A campaign truly committed to exploration might fight for restored science funding, increased human exploration funding, and reduced shuttle funding. But that's not what the Planetary Society's so-called Save our Science campaign supports. No, the SOS campaign says nothing about cutting the shuttle and increasing human exploration funding. Instead, it simply concentrates on restoring the status quo ante by increasing funding to the robotic science programs. (Here.)

The flaw in the SOS campaign is that it is backward looking. It looks at NASA's past successes at robotic exploration and believes the future of space exploration should look the same. Congratulations, that's what the Society's preliminary success will give us. More robots. The Same Old Stuff. O, boy. Thanks for nothing, Planetary Society.


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