When President Obama took office in 2009, among his first priorities was to cancel the Constellation program, mostly because it had George Bush's name on it, though that was behind a veneer of 'too expensive' and would take too long.
The Apollo moon landing took almost twice as long as estimates too, Pres. Kennedy had grossly underestimated the difficulty, and it was far over budget, but the new president of the United States from the opposition party who took office in 1969 did not cancel the program so he could create one with his own name on it. I noted at the time that it should shock people that the new president had less respect for science than Richard Nixon.
A few short years after saying it was a dumb idea to go back to the Moon, the administration is now saying we should...go back to the Moon. Like with the original NASA, this would rely on private companies to do most of the work. Unlike with the original NASA, companies today would be bound by all kinds of meaningless federal regulations, laws, restrictions and headaches - all for the opportunity to...do what? If George Bush and the entire US government was unrealistic in its estimate for how much it would cost to do a soft landing on Luna, why would companies sign up for that blank check?
If you think you smell panic in the program, you are not wrong. "As NASA pursues an ambitious plan for humans to explore an asteroid and Mars, US industry will create opportunities for NASA to advance new technologies on the moon," said Greg Williams, Nasa's deputy associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in their statement.
Why do companies need NASA for that? If you read the document, NASA is basically offering civil servants, but the last thing a nimble company making a bold space endeavor wants is government unions. And why would companies want to do technology demonstrations or look for water on the Moon? Then the government specifies that despite there being no commercial viability they know of, companies must provide a "Commercialization Strategy: Describe the long-term plan for operating a sustained and profitable commercial enterprise after completion of capability development". NASA is going to try and pick winners and losers for commercialization of the moon?
Companies obviously don't need to do experiments on the moon and lunar orbiter missions are far better for science and have no risk, but like with the domestic solar panels subsidy boondoggle and then tariffs on imported solar panels, this policy is playing catch-up with China. In December, Jade Rabbit landed on Luna, the first country to do a soft landing since 1976. Then NASA reacted a few weeks ago.
They could have waited. The China Academy of Space Technology has reported that the experiment has already died, though they haven't said why. Let's see if, in light of this new development, the administration quietly scuttles this program and just goes back to talking about how awesome Orion will be some day.
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