Cernan on the Vision: familiar arguments

In an op-ed in the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill this week, Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan talks up the Vision for Space Exploration. Cernan strongly supports the Vision, but the arguments are hardly original: “job security for thousands of skilled aerospace workers”, “benefits coming in the form of new technology, medical advances, consumer products”, and giving “our younger generation a tangible reason to dream about the future and inspire them to become a significant part of that future”. This isn’t the first time such arguments—jobs, spinoffs, and education—have been used to justify a NASA program. Are these the right reasons, and will the Vision be more effective in those areas than past programs?

6 comments to Cernan on the Vision: familiar arguments

  • I don’t think that the issue is whether or not it will succeed at those things, or past programs haven’t. The issue is whether or not it will actually provide useful progress in space for the money. It continues to beg the question of why the heck we’re doing this.

  • Tom

    This OP ED fell short for me too. Sounds like the same tired line of reasoning. Sure we were racked by political strife and an unpopular war during Apollo, but the important difference then was that most of the development, design and testing was completed by 1968 and the Tet Offensive. After that point, Americans had a totally different take on the Vietnam war…needless to say Apollo lasted only 3 years after that point.

    The attitude about Iraqnam has shifted, and this doesn’t bode well for VSE, which is still in the fledgling stages of development.

  • I suspect the VSE in some form will continue simply because Congress will not be prepared to completely withdraw from human spaceflight, and it is the political path of least resistance.

    Any other strategy is a complete dead end (continue to fly the Shuttle) or more change than the powers that be are prepared to tolerate (drop NASA and find some other way forward like Ed and co. want to do). I think the political powers that be would be happy to continue flying the Shuttle, but technical and financial reality and Dr. Griffin are doing their best to make that impossible.

    — Donald

  • Expendable rockets have a larger fraction of their cost as marginal cost, particularly if there is commonality with rockets used for other programs (i.e., if they end up using Atlas derivatives instead of the SRB-derived monstrosity). If the goal is to preserve the pretext that we haven’t abandoned manned spaceflight, then this will reduce the cost of doing so while greatly scaling back the flight rate.

    I think a major goal of the space program is to allow politicians to avoid admitting to past mistakes.

  • Paul, while I would state it more positively, I actually agree with you. Failing to use the EELVs makes the VSE unnecessarily expensive in the short term, and thus makes it less likely to survive politically over the long term.

    That said, the decision to use the Delta-IV engines goes a small way toward redressing this mistake by reducing the number of launch vehicle components we will be maintaining going forward.

    — Donald

  • Chris Mann

    Why don’t we also add a couple of RD-180’s as strapon boosters while we’re at it. May as well make them the same size as the Atlas Phase 2 cores for commonality.

    Marginal cost will be a little more than SRB’s, but we won’t have to maintain an unused assembly line at $1B a year for the next decade, and liquid fed stages will be much cheaper to transport and to assemble at the VAB.