In the 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff,” astronaut Gordo Cooper points toward a space capsule and asks a NASA scientist, “Do you know what makes this bird go up?” Cooper answers his own question: “Funding makes this bird go up!” At which point, astronaut Gus Grissom chimes in: “No bucks? No ‘Buck Rogers!'” That alleged conversation took place more than four decades ago, during the height of the space race with the Soviet Union. Today, the same refrain applies. Without funding from Congress, no U.S. spaceship will blast off for anywhere.
The British social historian James Burke is fond of saying any time humanity’s view of reality is changed by new knowledge, reality itself is changed. That is exactly what has happened with the discovery by the Mars rover Opportunity that the red planet once harbored liquid, flowing water.
Editor’s Note: No relation to this James Burk… I’m an American software developer 🙂
American astronauts will return to the moon early in the next decade in preparation for sending crews to explore Mars and nearby asteroids, President Bush is expected to propose next week as part of a sweeping reform of the U.S. space program. To pay for the new effort — which would require a new generation of spacecraft but use Europe’s Ariane rockets and Russia’s Soyuz capsules in the interim — NASA’s space shuttle fleet would be retired as soon as construction of the International Space Station is completed, senior administration sources told United Press International. The visionary new space plan would be the most ambitious project entrusted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since the Apollo moon landings of three decades ago. It commits the United States to an aggressive and far-reaching mission that holds interplanetary space as the human race’s new frontier.
With the arrival of Europe’s first interplanetary probe at Mars and two more U.S. spacecraft on the way, the red planet will be under intense scrutiny for months as scientists attempt to figure out why a world flecked with evidence of an Earth-like past appears dead and dry. An even more compelling question is whether indigenous life ever took root on Mars, as many suspect but cannot prove. “If you look at the surface of Mars today, it’s a desolate place. It’s dry. It’s cold. It’s barren,” said Cornell University astronomer Steven Squyres, who heads the science teams for two NASA rovers scheduled to land on Mars beginning next month. “It’s not an inviting environment for life, and yet we see these tantalizing clues,” he said.
Early Christmas morning, London time, a 70-pound British spacecraft, launched last June aboard a Russian rocket and hitchhiking behind a sophisticated European Space Agency orbital vehicle, is set to touch down on the surface of Mars. The lander, named the Beagle 2 — in honor of the sailing ship that transported Charles Darwin on his historic voyage to the Galapagos Islands in 1831 — represents an ingenious but daring entry in what is becoming a race to explore the red planet and establish once and for all whether it ever has harbored living organisms. If it succeeds, it could show up its bigger and much more expensive American cousins.
Since last spring, the Bush administration has been conducting a confidential effort to establish a dramatic new goal for the nation’s civil space program, perhaps rivaling President John F. Kennedy’s call to place a U.S. astronaut on the moon before the end of the 1960s, sources told United Press International. Only a few administration insiders have been involved, with Vice President Dick Cheney heading the effort, said sources, who requested anonymity. Though some details have leaked out — most notably reports Wednesday and Thursday that President George W. Bush will call for returning Americans to the moon — sources insist no final decisions have been made. Instead, the president is reviewing a list of alternative goals — some of them more practical than dramatic — that must conform to a pair of overriding directives: Any option must be achievable within a reasonable period of time, and it must not require any major new federal spending.
Canadian and American scientists plan to put an unmanned aircraft through a series of test maneuvers over an Arctic impact crater in hopes of learning more about how to fly missions through Martian skies. “A Mars airplane project will look very different from this one,” said Emily Lakdawalla, project coordinator with the Planetary Society, of Pasadena, Calif., which is sponsoring the test flights along with NASA’s Ames Research Center and aircraft manufacturer MicroPilot, a division of Loewen Aviation of Canada. “However, both projects involve making choices about observational targets that are interesting from a scientific standpoint and safe from an engineering standpoint — a choice that must be made with every remote sensing mission,” Lakdawalla said in an interview with United Press International.
Moviemakers have begun working on the $100 million Mission to Mars film in Vancouver, British Columbia. Among a cast of Hollywood actors-turned-astronauts on a 55- acre plot of sand dunes converted to red planet terra firma, are ex- space walkers, a Mars Pathfinder geologist, and NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station.