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A Defeatist View of Human Exploration

By Keith Cowing
August 24, 2012
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Column: Manned missions to Mars aren’t just sci-fi, opinion, Lou Friedman, USA Today
“Human travel to Mars is inevitable. Human journeys beyond Mars will be virtual. This makes Mars the ultimate destination for humans, in body at least. Once we realize that, the context of robotic missions like Spirit, Opportunity and, now, Curiosity changes. President Obama may actually understand this; he is the first president to announce that human expeditions to Mars (he said by the mid-2030s) is the goal of America’s space program. The president may understand it, but his administration doesn’t. It has cut out most future Mars plans in NASA. That disconnect needs fixing.”
Keith’s note: I simply do not agree with Lou Friedman when he suggests that personal, physical human exploration is going to be limited to Mars – with no human venturing beyond in person. This is narrow, defeatist thinking in the extreme. Friedman talks about the potential amazing technological advances in on sentence (electronics) for future robotic spacecraft – right after he says that human life support technology is stuck in the 1960s and apparently is immune to similar technological advances. He’s already given up and decided what is hard and what is not.
Alas, Carl Sagan spoke for decades about humans inside starships. Not everyone sees Mars as the “utlimate destination” as Friedman does. Rather, many see Mars as just a first step – one of many steps to be taken by human boots – accompanied by robots.
But I do agree with Friedman on one point: if you are going to set a goal i.e. sending humans to Mars, then the monetary resources to build up to that capability need to be in place to enable the development of that capability – now.
As for being Friedman’s statement that Presient Obama “is the first president to announce that human expeditions to Mars (he said by the mid-2030s) is the goal of America’s space program.” I guess Lou missed this 2004 statement from President Bush: “With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond.”. This was immediately followed by the President’s Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond. In 1989 his father said that America would be “sending humans back to the Moon, and ultimately sending astronauts to Mars”. I was at both events and clearly heard the word “Mars” both times.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.