- The Chicago Astronomer -
Copyright 2004-2014 All rights reserved by Joseph Guzman Administrator/Founder/Chief Astronomer.
All text and images are the property of the original authors/artists and shall
not be used without permission.
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Feb 8, 2006 15:31:26 GMT -6
Europa Mission: Lost In NASA Budget
NASA’s newly issued budget has lowered a flagship mission of exploration to half-mast. Backed by scientists and study groups, a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is missing in action within the pages of NASA’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget unveiled yesterday.
The smallest of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites—about the size of Earth’s Moon—Europa has a facade of white and brown colored water ice. Hidden under that frozen crust, Europa may well harbor a global ocean of liquid water. And coupled to the prospect for a subsurface ocean comes the tempting thought of life.
“NASA’s robotic exploration program is being flat-lined, setting aside a mission to Europa to search for its ice-covered ocean and perhaps for life itself,” Planetary Society Executive Director, Louis Friedman, said in a statement released Monday.
Both the National Academy of Sciences and internal NASA advisory committees have endorsed Europa exploration as the highest priority solar system objective after Mars.
Last year, the U.S. Congress directed NASA to plan a fiscal year 2007 start on a Europa mission. “If the proposed budget is adopted, that directive will be ignored, and no Europa mission will be planned,” the Planetary Society statement noted.
This is the expected fallout from Bush’s politically inspired calls for manned missions to the Moon and Mars. He knows that such “heroic” adventures are popular with many voters, even if scientifically of little value. The situation is related to the cheering of mountain climbers and their pointless accomplishments, though immensely more costly.
Safety is the big cost of manned spaceflight. Or as my cousin John Andelin (former Head of the Science Division of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment) calls it, the cost of perfection. Unfortunately, his agency was abolished as a “cost cutting measure”. In reality, they too frequently asked Congress to cut back on pork.
The President (or his staff) is aware that the plans for costly manned missions will create public demand to maintain NASA’s bottom line budget. His bureaucrats love that. Even more avariciously, the efforts will funnel countless billions of dollars to the President’s friends in the aerospace industry, while quashing those relatively inexpensive robotic programs, which have been making “dangerous” scientific discoveries to the minds of some of the President’s staunchest supporters.
We can’t have it all; funds are not limitless. Sometimes the administration is cleverer than we might think. At least that is so when defending their power and maintaining their influence over their political base.
The technological realities have changed from the era of deep-sea divers, Buck Rogers and pilot/astronauts with the “right stuff”. Clever human engineers have devised better ways to build unmanned submersibles, pilotless fighter planes and robotic space exploration vehicles. We'll all have to get used to it.
Robotics provides us with not only a wealth of scientific knowledge, but also the most effective means under current conditions to pave the way for extraterrestrial colonization by our descendents. Let your Congressmen know that in today’s world you prefer sanity in the manner which space is explored and discoveries are made.