More on energy vs. space

As I noted here earlier this week, there is growing interest in alternative energy efforts that could end up competing with space exploration for federal funding—even as alternative energy advocates use the Apollo program as a model for their efforts. Now there are a couple more examples which demonstrate this trend.

An editorial in Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle made the case for an “Apollo-scale” program for alternative energy (in addition to increased offshore drilling):

If President Bush and Democratic leaders in Congress wished to show responsible leadership worthy of the public’s growing concern about high energy costs, they would together craft legislation that would encourage domestic energy production and begin a national research program – on a scale of NASA’s successful race to the moon – to develop clean energy from renewable sources such as wind and sunlight; superefficient batteries in which to store it; and alternative fuels such as hydrogen or some source not yet envisioned.

Then, yesterday, former vice president Al Gore made a similar call for alternative energy development:

Just as John F. Kennedy set his sights on the moon, Al Gore is challenging the nation to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years, an audacious goal he hopes the next president will embrace.

Such large-scale programs, if implemented, would be expensive, just as Apollo over 40 years ago. Where would that money come from, particularly if the presidential candidates are serious about reducing budget deficits? Lots of other programs would probably be under pressure, and it’s hard to see how NASA would be exempt.

6 comments to More on energy vs. space

  • […] Space Politics ยป More on energy vs. space […]

  • Doug Lassiter

    Jeff makes a good point here. To pick up on my earlier comment …

    Energy independence is the single issue that can compete for dollars with space exploration. At least in the near term it’s about technology development (such that dollars spent go to the industrial sector), it’s national security, as it addresses what is commonly perceived as a threat to our country. Achievement in it would be a strong point of national pride. It’s an issue that can be expected to inspire youth to do engineering, science, and technology. There will be spinoffs (low carbon Tang, maybe?) Finally, it’s a damned expensive proposition that will involve some economic sacrifice.

    Unlike space exploration, there are clear metrics for success, and the result actually touches everyone. The technology and infrastructure one develops in doing it is hugely marketable, as well.

    Worth some thought how space exploration can best market itself given this new, or at least newly popular, issue. I will be interesting to watch the reaction of the aerospace industry to this “bubble”, in that if they see a future in it, their essential advocacy for space exploration will fade away.

  • red

    For what it’s worth, I posted some comments on Jeff’s original “Energy vs. Space” article in the Space Review, as well as the “Energy Apollo Program” idea, at Space Prizes:


    The bottom-line excerpt from that post is:

    “My take on it is that the bulk of NASA’s space efforts should be directed at solving big problems that the public cares about – energy, environment, security, medical, and so on – using space and aeronautics.”

    I don’t think any of these issues are flashes in the pan. It’s going to be awfully hard for NASA to continue on its path over the long term if it doesn’t find some way to become relevant in publicly obvious ways in areas like these.

  • Doug Lassiter

    That’s mostly my point. The hard-sell for NASA has gotten a lot harder, for reasons that have nothing to do with agency funding adequacy or schedule margins. But “energy, environment, security, medical, and so on” is mom and apple pie (none of which space exploration has ever been clearly connected with). Energy independence is a more focused goal that scores a bulls eye with national need.

    If you ask the electorate whether they’d rather spend $50B to go back to the Moon, or invest that in energy independence, I’d say it would be a slam dunk for the latter.

    Obama is spouting “Yes we can!”, and even McCain is acting like he believes in something like that. Unfortunately, for putting humans on the Moon, NASA doesn’t have a lot more to say than “Yes, we did”, aside from steroids.

  • […] Obama held in Cape Canaveral Saturday morning but focused on offshore drilling (another example of energy trumping space?). FoxNews.com did devote a blog post to the issue, alongside John McCain’s meeting with a […]

  • Every government should focus more on Alternative Energy so as not to be too dependent on Oil and avoid air pollution as well.””

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