Looks like there’s a leadership issue with President Obama’s change in direction for NASA. In short, let’s encourage private industry to build and launch the rockets. Interesting view of a president who acts as if government only has the capabilities for bold initiatives — like health care, job creation, and such.
The name of this writing is based on Neil Armstrong’s four curves as described in Rocket Men. In the initial posting I wrote:
A group of NASA employees went to Caltech, where the first moonwalker, Neil Armstrong, “got up at the blackboard and he drew four curves. They look kind of like mountain peaks.” The titles of the peaks were “Leadership,” “Threat,” “Good Economy”, and “World Peace.” As Griffin recalls, Armstrong said, “My theory is that when all of those curves are in conjunction, when they all line up together, you can do something like Apollo. Apollo, or something like it, will happen. And we happened to be ready for that when all those curves lined up” (p. 348).
Leadership or not, there’s a vacuum regarding human exploration. This curve is missing.
Threat. The country has many threats, real and perceived. The largest with respect to science and technology is China. The Chinese Long March booster is thought to be able to lift over 10,000 pounds into low earth orbit and around 5,000 pounds into stationary orbit so that a satellite revolves around the earth once a day. When placed at that position, the satellite says over one place on Earth. This is valuable for relaying communications and watching weather. The current booster is no threat.
In comparison, the Russian’s Energia booster can lift approximately 100 tons to low earth orbit, and approximately 20 tons to the higher orbit. The American Space Shuttle lifts about 25 tons to low earth orbit and around 5 tons to higher orbit. Clearly, the Russians are winning the booster chase, but the Chinese are working diligently on their program. Be mindful, but not surprised, of a Chinese surprise in space exploration. The president thinks that we don’t need a booster. Let’s stop the program and the progress.
Further, threats no longer appear to be international. Terrorism certainly is international, but nations threatening nations, like during the Cold War, is minimal. It’s impossible for a national leader to link a space race to terrorism. It’s not likely that a terrorist group will launch an ICBM at the United States. This threat is more local, by a few individuals turning small weapons against cities. No threat curve.
Good Economy? Not today. We are already spending an amount equal to the Apollo program in today’s dollars every 18 months in two desert wars. And the president wants to move toward private contractors. No economy curve.
World Peace. For the most part, yes, besides the regional conflicts and the real/perceived threat of terrorism. No curve here.
So, using Armstrong’s analysis, there are no curves to line up. No leadership, no threat, bad economy, and a world largely at peace. So it means no focused human exploration of the universe around us until the Chinese do something dramatic. Be watchful.