We can not deny it, these are exciting times!
As a NASA and space fan since I was a little kid, I still remember
how difficult it was for me to get information about the Space Program.
I even went to the US Embassy in Buenos Aires once, asking for the NASA
address (yes, the physical one). My mom came with me of course. “I need
the NASA address so I can write a letter to them,” I said at the reception desk,
with security guards looking at me. I wanted pictures, posters,
astronaut autographs, everything. They gave me the address and a
couple of official NASA pictures of Shuttle Columbia as well. Wow…just
imagine my face on my way out of the Embassy…I was in orbit,
experiencing free fall.
I followed the Shuttle Program over the years on TV, radio,
newspapers, checking for every mission, if crews were okay, if X or Y
satellite was successfully deployed or if Galileo was finally on its
route to Jupiter. I was also reading books, lots of them, and from time
to time receiving an envelope from NASA in the mail with pics,
posters, press kits…stuff that I still keep to these days.
Time flies. I live in Miami now thanks to both my desire of coming
to the US and my career. The Internet appeared in the middle and
changed the way we live and communicate to each other, family, brands,
and of course, NASA. I would have never imagined that I could follow
astronauts from orbit and that they could actually answer me. That I
would check my mobile phone and see a picture taken from the ISS Cupola
two hours ago? Or that I could have new JPL pictures from the surface
of Mars in my Flickr stream. Think about it…I’m just trying to digest
what 5-10 years ago was unthinkable.
Today we can have an open discussion about our Space Program and its
future like never before, and it’s great. I’ve been reading most of the
posts, tweets, press articles and comments about it. “No Shuttle
flights?” “open it to commercial companies?” “We are losing the race
with China and India!” “the end of NASA,” “unthinkable…”
Well, we should think twice…
Lets stop the ball for a little while and look at the horizon. We need to.
NASA’s glory days will never go away, they are with us all the time,
in almost everything we do, and thanks to NASA that today we can
have the very first chance to become a space faring nation, for real.
If we really want to develop space industry we need to open it to
the commercial sector, at least for going to LEO first; I don’t see any
other way. If not, what? Do we keep asking Congress for more peanuts
every year? 0.X% something of the total budget? Are we going to keep
waiting for them to realize how important space development and
exploration is? That will never happen and even less in this economical
environment (there will be always an excuse). Oh, and that’s the same
congress now some people are asking to “defend” NASA and Constellation?
They will defend their own interests and the ones of the states they
represent, not NASA and the Space Program in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see the Shuttle flying and
flying…but if keeping it flying will prevent us to send, as Miles
O’Brien so clearly stated in front of Congress, 500 people per month to space instead of 7, well, we need to make a choice. The choice was made
and we need to stick to it. That this decision brings with it a lot of
uncertainties and changes to the NASA family, yes, of course. I had the
privilege to meet some of them thanks to Twitter and this Society, and
I cannot find people more dedicated and passionate about their jobs.
That’s why I’m so positive than better opportunities will come along
for most of them.
Regarding China and the “race” to the moon…what race? I don’t see any race here. And if China wants to send humans to the Moon then, well good
for them. For the moment, please allow them to keep celebrating their
“Ed White” moment, something the US did 50 years ago. Oh, by the
way..how many probes did they send to space? Rovers on Mars? How many
satellites? Orbiting telescopes? Probes getting out of the solar
system? On their way to Pluto? Etc, etc, etc… again, what race?
The world is very different now; the ISS is orbiting and living
proof of that and the only race here should be between companies to see
who’s the first one to send cargo to it, humans to LEO, or even go to
the Moon. And in terms of exploration beyond LEO, I don’t think we need
a specific destination. Forty years ago we were kind of “forced” to go to
the Moon first; there was no option. The circumstances were very different, and it made sense in that moment. The fact that today we are
discussing which place we should go first is fascinating.
So instead of concerning ourselves with China or India and their baby space
steps, let’s think big here about the great opportunity we all have in
front of us. I’m not even a US citizen and I feel excited about this
program and what it could bring to all of us.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m 41, and when I grow up I want to be an astronaut. Just thinking loud….