- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

Its time for the Bush administration to let the American people know whether the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is going to enhance American leadership in space exploration or it is going to live on past glories.
At the moment, the White House has before it a London Times article published April 21 whose startling lead paragraph begins: "Russia has overcome all main obstacles to manned interplanetary flight and should be ready to send humans to Mars in the second decade of the 21st century, the head of a once-secret space science institute has claimed."
Anatoli Grigoriev, head of the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, publicly predicted a Russian Mars flight by 2016. The London Times correspondent, Giles Whittell, writing from Moscow quotes Mr. Grigoriev as saying that 15 years of trial and error aboard the Mir space station have given Russia unmatched experience in choosing, training, feeding and supporting the crews of space flights lasting a year or more.
It might be difficult to take seriously so spectacular a claim about a super-costly space voyage by a leading Russian space scientist when his country has been an economic basket case for more than a decade. On the other hand we should remember that Russia this month celebrated the 40th anniversary of Yuri Gagarins first space flight, April 12, 1961. Other countries India, China, Europe itself are moving actively in space exploration.
The Bush administration should begin to move on the space front because it is one of the few issues in Congress that enjoys bipartisan support. There is no better way to begin than by studying a statement "a roadmap to the future of NASA," he called it by Wesley T. Huntress, one of the countrys leading astrophysicists, presented April 3 to the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. He called for a commitment to "a manifest destiny for America in space."
Mr. Huntress said there are four great questions mankind hopes one day to answer: (1) Where did we come from? (2) How did life on Earth originate and evolve to make the human species? (3) Are we alone? (4) Is the Earth unique?
Should NASA undertake "an all-out assault on Mars"? In contrast to the Russian claim, Mr. Huntress says, "We do not yet know the value of sending humans to Mars," a journey that would take two years to traverse 280 million miles. Therefore, a robot exploration program to seek evidence of early or extant life would be something to consider.
Mr. Huntress presented to the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics a set of what he called "Grand Challenges" for Americas space program:
(1) To seek evidence of life elsewhere in the solar system where liquid water existed in the past or exists now.
(2) To study planets around other stars (the sun being the star of our planetary system).
(3) To send a spacecraft to a nearby star, something we dont know how to do today "but in 1900 we didnt know how to fly either."
(4) To develop a plan of human exploration beyond Earth orbit.
Mr. Huntress proposes construction of a fleet of micro-spacecraft to explore asteroids and their origin so as to "understand how to mitigate against them should any one of them present a danger to Earth in the future."
The most difficult area for exploration and the most ambitious perhaps is the outer solar system, made to order for robotic penetration. To this end, Mr. Huntress proposed creating as a first step a remote scientific research station on the moon similar to a human outpost but operating autonomously. There would be only occasional consultation with human directors on Earth. Robotic outposts such as these could set the stage for later human participation if and when it was decided to send a new generation of astronauts to explore the outer solar system.
"Who can predict," said Mr. Huntress, "what we will find as we proceed over the next years to investigate our solar system and the stars beyond?"

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide