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LET'

Are NASA's Space Exploration


Goals Right?"
Before we start down a path of no return,
the debate must be reopened on what should
be the nation's space exploration goals and
near-term objectives. Resources that can be devoted to those goals are, and alwayswill be, limited. President George MT. Bush's Vision for
Space Exploration was premised on false assumptions. We will never beam energy back to
Earth from the lunar surface. M i n i n ~the
Moon for resources to be used either on the
Moon or brought back to Earth will fail the test
of economic viability, certainly for the foreseeable fi~ture.The private sector will not go it
alone to initiate such ventures. We do not need
to test technology to be used in fi~turespace
exploration on the Moon -that rationale also
fails the test of cost benefit.
If China, Russia,Japan and India desire to
send robots and humans to the Moon, that is
their prerogative. If they are successful, that
will allow them to catch up with what we did 30
and 40 years ago. They will not make any great
scientific discoveries that will add significantly
to our knowledge of the Earth-Moon system.
We already have excellent first-order answers
for all the major questions asked prior to Apollo. What they hill gain is the technology and
know-how to conduct such missions, which is
not a trivial benefit.
NASA's recent briefing on its current exploration strategy left many troubling questions. One of NASA Administrator Mike Griff i n ' s r e m a r k s i n d i c a t e d a lack of
understanding of the problems besetting the
international space station. He said that
NASA was asking the scientific community for
ideas on what should be done during forthcoming lunar missions. He said he did not
want scientists wondering what to do on the
Moon, as was the case for the space station. He
must not have been aware that hundreds of
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principal investigators were selected by NASA


to conduct experiments on Spacelab o r on
the space station; or that a number of important facilities like the centrifuge and furnace
had been built but not launched, and experimenters at one time were waiting in line to use
them. Raiding the space station science hudget was the problem, not confusion on the part
of experimenters.
It seems contradictory to use this example of
how not to plan space exploration, when they
do not seem to be sure why we will return to the
Moon. Yet NASA is being skewed to carry out
such a goal without waiting for the answer.
This administration, Congress and future
administrations must learn from past mistakes.
Too many programs have been started and
stopped, wasting untold an amount of national resources. Every commission chartered in
the past to recommend furtire space exploration goals made one plea: The goals must be
embraced by the nation as a whole with the
understanding that they entail a long-term
commitment.
NASA's 2005 Authorization Act does not
represent such a commitment.
It is a start, but perhaps in the Ivrong direction. We should he setting our sights on h e difficult but more-rewarding goals of exploring
Mars and other near-Earth oh-jects to dctermine if they hold ansl\.ers to rt~~~clarnent
questions or, in the latter case, a threat to life
on Earth.

Donald A. Beatfie
Jacksonville, fla.
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