Last week I noted here the mixed reception from former astronauts to a the recent policy paper by George Abbey and Neal Lane, one that proposed foregoing a return to the Moon in favor of more of an emphasis on energy and environment research, as well as long-term planning for missions to near Earth objects. What other response has that report generated?
I had an opportunity last weekend at the AAAS conference in Chicago to ask Lane, after a panel session about the future of the OSTP (Lane was President Clinton’s science advisor), what sort of feedback he’d received. “Mostly favorable,” he said. He alluded to Cernan’s opposition to the proposal that was published by the Houston Chronicle, but wasn’t surprised since Cernan is “still kind of a space nut. He wants to go go go, out to Mars.”
Lane, by comparison, doesn’t think the nation is interested in human missions to the Moon and Mars. “It would be fine to go to the Moon if there was a reason to go to the Moon, and the people wanted to, but they don’t,” he claimed. “People don’t care about going back to the Moon and there’s no rationale for going back to the Moon. I would really like to see NASA go forward in a big way and have a larger and more exciting space program. But right now there’s not the support for it, and NASA’s flailing.”
That’s why, he said, he and Abbey decided that NASA would be better advised to focus on “solving the energy problem” and build public support for the agency that could be leveraged for other missions in the future. “If we keep blowing all our money on Constellation there will be nothing left,” he said. “Our hope was to put something out there that would actually be good for NASA, helpful, and give it a solid foundation to build from again until the American people get excited again about space exploration.”
Lane said he hasn’t gotten any feedback from the Obama Administration about the study, but he believes that the administration will change course from the current exploration architecture. “I think it’s clear since Mike [Griffin] left that they don’t intend to go down the same road,” he said. “If you were going to just continue, why not keep him in, right?”
So who might replace Griffin as administrator? Lane said he didn’t have any insights. “They’ve looked at some capable people. I don’t know if they’re going down a long list and having trouble finding anybody willing to do it, or if it’s something with the vetting, or something else. I don’t really know what’s going on right now. With [presidential science advisor] John Holdren in place now I suspect he’ll give a high priority to finding somebody, because he certainly cares, and he knows the agency needs leadership.”