Obama shoots down Mars ex­plo­ration

Space com­mu­nity out­raged as real mis­sions are re­placed by sim­u­lated sci­ence

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - By Robert Zubrin

In its bud­get sub­mit­ted to Congress Feb. 13, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ze­roed out fund­ing for NASA’S fu­ture Mars ex­plo­ration mis­sions. The Mars Sci­ence Lab Cu­rios­ity is en route to the red planet, and the nearly com­pleted small Maven or­biter, sched­uled for launch in 2013, will be sent, but that’s it. No fund­ing has been pro­vided for the Mars probes planned as joint mis­sions with the Euro­peans for 2016 and 2018, and noth­ing af­ter that is funded, ei­ther. This poses a cri­sis for the Amer­i­can space pro­gram.

NASA’S Mars ex­plo­ration ef­fort has been bril­liantly suc­cess­ful be­cause, since 1994, it has been ap­proached as a cam­paign, with probes launched ev­ery bi­en­nial op­por­tu­nity, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween or­biters and lan­ders. As a re­sult, com­bined op­er­a­tions have been pos­si­ble, with or­biters pro­vid­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion links and re­con­nais­sance guid­ance for sur­face rovers, which, in turn, could con­duct ground-truth in­ves­ti­ga­tions of or­bital ob­ser­va­tions. Thus, the great treks of the rovers Spirit and Op­por­tu­nity, launched in 2003, were sup­ported from above by Mars­global Sur­veyor (MGS, launched in 1996), Mars Odyssey (launched in 2001) and Marsre­con­nais­sance Or­biter (launched in 2005). But af­ter serv­ing 10 years on or­bit, MGS is lost, and if we wait un­til the 2020s to re­sume Mars ex­plo­ration, the rest of the or­biters will be gone as well. More­over, so will be the ex­pe­ri­enced teams that cre­ated them. Ef­fec­tively, the whole pro­gram will be wrecked, and we will have to start again from scratch.

Fur­ther­more, if the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cuts are al­lowed to pre­vail, we not only will de­stroy Amer­ica’s Mars ex­plo­ration pro­gram but will de­rail that of our Euro­pean al­lies as well. The 2016 and 2018 mis­sions have been planned as a Nasa/euro­pean Space Agency joint project, with the Euro­peans con­tribut­ing more than $1 bil­lion to the ef­fort. If Amer­ica be­trays its com­mit­ment, the Euro­pean sup­port­ers of Mars ex­plo­ration will be left high and dry, and both the mis­sions and the part­ner­ship will be lost.

When, on Oct. 26, I re­vealed the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans for this wreck­ing op­er­a­tion in the pages of this news­pa­per, I was widely at­tacked by Obama sup­port­ers. Cut­ting short NASA’S most suc­cess­ful pro­gram would be in­sane, they said, and so claims that such a move was in the works could not pos­si­bly be true.

Alas, they were only half right. The cuts are nuts, but that has not de­terred the ad­min­is­tra­tion — quite the con­trary. When NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Charles F. Bolden Jr. was quizzed re­cently by Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, on the ra­tio­nale for the move, Mr. Bolden replied that the cuts were done be­cause the­mars pro­gramwas highly suc­cess­ful. (I am not mak­ing this up.)

The sci­en­tific com­mu­nity is un­der­stand­ably out­raged. Ed Weiler, the NASA as­so­ci­ate ad­min­is­tra­tor for sci­ence, a 33-year agency veteran, re­signed his post in dis­gust. To take his place, Mr. Bolden ap­pointed John Grunsfeld. As NASA chief sci­en­tist un­der for­mer Ad­min­is­tra­tor Sean O’keefe, Mr. Grunsfeld gained no­to­ri­ety by act­ing as public and con­gres­sional ad­vo­cate for Mr. O’keefe’s at­tempt to aban­don the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope, even while ac­knowl­edg­ing to oth­ers in the tech­ni­cal com­mu­nity that his tes­ti­mony had no ra­tio­nal foun­da­tion. Con­tin­u­ing in this tra­di­tion, Mr. Grunsfeld told the mem­bers of the sci­ence com­mit­tee of the NASA Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil (NAC) this month that be­cause they are “tem­po­rary gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees while sit­ting on NAC” they “are not al­lowed” to crit­i­cize the Mars mis­sion cuts (i.e., “Shut up”).

The Mars Ex­plo­ration Pro­gram Anal­y­sis Group (MEPAG), a broader sci­en­tific ad­vi­sory panel, could not be si­lenced so eas­ily. It is­sued a state­ment say­ing that its mem­bers are “ap­palled.” To pla­cate them, Mr. Grunsfeld put forth the fol­low­ing con­so­la­tion: In 2016, in­stead of send­ing a real ex­ploratory probe to the red planet, NASA will have a group of as­tro­nauts on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion pre­tend that they are fly­ing to Mars. (I am not mak­ing this up, ei­ther.) Does any­one re­mem­ber the song “Pa­per Moon?” “It wouldn’t be make-be­lieve, if you be­lieved in me.” Ap­par­ently this is now NASA’S theme.

So what is go­ing on? Cost is not the is­sue. With the Euro­peans putting up their share, a match­ing $1 bil­lion con­tri­bu­tion from NASA spread over the next six years would be suf­fi­cient to fund both the 2016 and 2018 mis­sions at a level of $1 bil­lion each. This would re­quire less than 1 per­cent of NASA’S cur­rent bud­get. There is no ex­cuse for not do­ing this.

In­deed, what is truly re­mark­able about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s NASA man­age­ment is that it has man­aged to wreck both the hu­man-space­flight pro­gram and the ro­botic plan­e­tary ex­plo­ration ef­fort with­out sav­ing any money. In 2008, NASA’S spend­ing was $17.4 bil­lion; this year’s bud­get is $17.7 bil­lion. Yet in 2008, NASA was run­ning an ac­tive space shut­tle pro­gram, pre­par­ing for the crit­i­cal mis­sion to save the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope, de­vel­op­ing sys­tems for re­turn­ing as­tro­nauts to the moon by 2019, build­ing the Cu­rios­ity and Maven Mars probes and plan­ning an or­biter for Jupiter’s moon Europa. Toda,y the shut­tles are gone, the moon pro­gram is gone, and this decade’s Mars and Jupiter probes are gone — all with­out sav­ing a nickel. In terms of dam­age done per dol­lar cut, it may be a world’s record.

There has long been a school of thought among lib­er­als con­tend­ing that space dol­lars would be “bet­ter spent on Earth” (ac­tu­ally, all space dol­lars are spent on Earth) to meet the ex­penses of var­i­ous so­cial pro­grams. This is an ar­guable propo­si­tion, but as NASA’S flat bud­get plan shows, it is not the mo­tive be­hind the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s move against plan­e­tary ex­plo­ration. So the ques­tion must arise: Why are they do­ing this?

Per­haps the an­swer is pro­vided by an ex­am­i­na­tion of the core be­liefs of the pres­i­dent’s sci­ence ad­viser, John P. Hol­dren. In his 1971 book, “Global Ecol­ogy,” co-au­thored with an­ti­hu­man-growth ide­o­logue Paul R. Ehrlich (of “Pop­u­la­tion Bomb” fame), Mr. Hol­dren wrote:

“When a pop­u­la­tion of or­gan­isms grows in a fi­nite en­vi­ron­ment, sooner or later it will

en­counter a re­source limit. This phe­nom­e­non, de­scribed by ecol­o­gists as reach­ing the ‘car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity’ of the en­vi­ron­ment, ap­plies to bac­te­ria on a cul­ture dish, to fruit flies in a jar of agar, and to buf­falo on a prairie. It must also ap­ply to man on this fi­nite planet.”

Thus, in or­der to ac­cept the con­straints on hu­man as­pi­ra­tions de­manded by Mr. Hol­dren, Mr. Ehrlich and their co-thinkers (whether ra­tio­nal­ized by al­leged lim­its to avail­able re­sources in the 1970s or by the pu­ta­tive threat of global warm­ing), peo­ple must be con­vinced that the fu­ture is closed. The is­sue is not that re­sources from space might dis­rupt the would-be reg­u­la­tors’ ra­tioning schemes. Rather it is that the idea of an open fu­ture with un­lim­ited re­sources and pos­si­bil­i­ties un­der­mines the walls of the men­tal prison the would-be war­dens of mankind seek to con­struct.

Ideas have con­se­quences. If the idea is ac­cepted that re­sources are limited, then hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties must be se­verely con­strained, and some­one must be em­pow­ered to en­force the con­strain­ing. But if it is un­der­stood that the pos­si­bil­i­ties for hu­man ex­is­tence are as open as un­fet­tered hu­man creativ­ity can make them, then the pro­tec­tion of lib­erty be­comes the first re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ment.

The stakes are thus very high. That is why, con­sis­tent with his be­liefs, Mr. Hol­dren has over­seen the re­duc­tion of NASA’S Mars ex­plo­ration bud­get from $620 mil­lion in 2008 to $360 mil­lion next year (nearly all of which will go to run­ning Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion legacy mis­sions). At the same time, he has boosted Earth sci­ence fund­ing from $1.27 bil­lion to $1.80 bil­lion over the same pe­riod — a form of re­search that is mas­sively re­dun­dant given the scores of satel­lites, thou­sands of air­craft and bal­loons, and sea and ground sta­tions tak­ing mil­lions of daily mea­sure­ments on or above ev­ery part of the globe al­ready.

Mars is key to hu­man­ity’s fu­ture in space. It is the clos­est planet that has all the re­sources needed to sup­port life and tech­no­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion. Its com­plex­ity uniquely de­mands the skills of hu­man ex­plor­ers, who will pave the way for hu­man set­tlers. It is, there­fore, the proper goal for NASA’S hu­man-space­flight pro­gram and the proper pri­or­ity for its ro­botic scouts. But in­stead of ex­plor­ing new worlds, NASA’S sci­ence bud­get will go to pro­vid­ing slush funds for cli­mate-change pro­pa­gan­dists.

Amer­ica’s plan­e­tary ex­plo­ration pro­gram is one of the great chap­ters in the his­tory of sci­ence, of civ­i­liza­tion and of our coun­try. Its aban­don­ment rep­re­sents noth­ing less than an open em­brace of Amer­i­can de­cline, done for the pur­pose of ad­vanc­ing a per­verse ide­ol­ogy in­im­i­cal to Amer­i­can lib­erty, pros­per­ity and fun­da­men­tal val­ues. This is un­ac­cept­able.

If the ad­min­is­tra­tion is al­lowed to shut down the Mars ex­plo­ration ef­fort, NASA will lose its most ef­fec­tive en­deavor — one of the few that de­liv­ers the goods that jus­tify the en­tire space pro­gram as a na­tional en­ter­prise. The na­tion will lose one of its crown jew­els, the sci­en­tists will lose their chance to find life be­yond Earth, and hu­man­ity will lose the one sig­nif­i­cant ef­fort that is mak­ing real and vis­i­ble progress to­ward open­ing the fron­tier on an­other world.

Congress should not al­low that to hap­pen.

Un­count­able books have de­tailed Soviet re­sis­tance to Ger­man in­vaders in World War II, con­cen­trat­ing chiefly on the tenac­ity of the Red army foot sol­dier and the de­vel­op­ment of a highly pro­fes­sional ar­mored corps. But rel­a­tively lit­tle is said about the Soviet air force (or VVS for its Rus­sian-lan­guage name, Voenno-noz­dush­nyye Sily).

Much of this ne­glect was be­cause of the in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity of Soviet doc­u­ments other than wartime pro­pa­ganda boasts and un­trust­wor­thy mem­oirs of pi­lots and other of­fi­cers. His­to­ri­ans such as Von Hardesty of the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum made a stab at an over­all study in a 1982 book that drew heav­ily on mem­oirs of Ger­man vet­er­ans who had fought against the Sovi­ets. But, as he con­cluded, those pa­pers “were a mix of ac­cu­rate sto­ry­telling and trans­par­ent bias.”

Mr. Hardesty is back, this time with Ilya Grin­berg, a pro­fes­sor at the State Univer­sity of New York Col­lege at Buf­falo. Now, the au­thors are able to rely on what they term “an avalanche of de­clas­si­fied Rus­sian archival sources, combat doc­u­ments and sta­tis­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion” made avail­able over the past three decades.

Even stu­dents of the war might be sur­prised at some of their find­ings. Based on their study, the VVS “emerged as the largest op­er­a­tional-tac­ti­cal air force in the world by the end of the war.” The VVS played a crit­i­cal role in bat­tle af­ter bat­tle, from the de­fense of Moscow through Stal­in­grad and the tank of­fenses that fi­nally drove the Wehrma­cht out of the USSR.

But the VVS got off to a rocky start when Ger­mans at­tacked in June 1941, suf­fer­ing tremen­dous losses in the first fran­tic hours of war­fare. Dic­ta­tor Josef Stalin, as has been es­tab­lished, ig­nored warn­ings from pu­ta­tive al­lies such as the Bri­tish that an at­tack was com­ing. He scoffed, say­ing the Bri­tish were try­ing to lure him into the war to stem their loom­ing de­feat at Ger­man hands. Hence,


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