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Greg Easterbrook Has Some Issues With NASA (Again)

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
May 22, 2007

How NASA Screwed Up (And Four Ways to Fix It), Wired

“For a sense of how out of whack NASA priorities have become, briefly ponder that plan. Because the Apollo missions suggested there was little of pressing importance to be learned on the moon, NASA has not landed so much as one automated probe there in three decades. In fact, the rockets used by the Apollo program were retired 30 years ago; even space enthusiasts saw no point in returning to the lunar surface. But now, with the space station a punch line and the shuttles too old to operate much longer, NASA suddenly decides it needs to restore its moon-landing capability in order to build a “permanent” crewed base.”

Comments? Send them to [email protected]. Your Comments thus far:

Hi Keith, here’re my comments:

While his writing is rather cynical, I find much of G.E.s commentary right on. NASAs human spaceflight program (I refuse to call it “exploration”, since it doesn’t do any) is clearly being supported at the great expense of every other NASA program, no matter what denials, and even put-downs, Mr. Griffin may emit. His credibility is shot with most everyone but the aero community at this point. And such diversion does these other programs much more damage than it does good for human spaceflight.

More tourism than science is done on the ISS, and what is done could be done far far cheaper in other ways. Infinitly more is done elsewhere, across NASA. In view of its vast price tag, ISS’s scientific merits and cost-effectiveness are a joke. This is not to say that I oppose human expansion into space; this will always be a driving force behind any space program. But a 100 billion$ capsule endlessly circling just above our atmosphere is pathetic, not inspiring.

I totally agree with G.E. that human space travel needs to be fundamentally rethought. The idea that people will ever make significant moves to the planets by riding rockets into space, half a dozen at a time, is ridiculous. In my opinion the whole humans-on-rockets program ought to be scrapped and its resources dedicated to finding us a serious way of getting people into space. Unfortunately doing this would require NASA to take a ‘big picture, long term’ view of things, something Congress, Big Aerospace, and NASA administration won’t do.

I fully expect “VSE” to end with the Bush administration, or the end of Mike Griffin’s tenure, if that happens sooner. But I doubt their replacements will be any less “old-think” in their vision.

John C
Fairbanks, AK

Hello Mr. Cowing,

I was so upset my Gregg Easterbrook’s opinion piece in Wired magazine that I wrote a letter to the editor about it. I doubt they will print it, so here it is:

Dear Wired Editors,

I was rather surprised that you would include an opinion piece by Gregg Easterbrook in your otherwise astute publication. If you had read his previous writings about NASA and human spaceflight, you would conclude that he has a nearly psychotic aversion to both, as if NASA’s whole purpose is to inflict him harm from upon high. But seriously, much of Easterbrook’s opposition to NASA and human spaceflight is about the cost involved. Let’s put things into perspective. NASA’s entire budget (less than one percent of the U.S. Federal budget) is roughly equal to the annual revenues of the Anheuser-Busch Company. While Easterbrook is ranting about the evils of NASA, we don’t hear a word from him about the frivolous spending by Americans on beer and roller-coaster rides.

Easterbrook’s assertion that the International Space Station (ISS) is worthless could not be more incorrect. Aside from the valuable scientific research being conducted there, the ISS itself is a grand experiment that is teaching us how to support permanent human settlements in space. To understand my point, try this thought experiment: attach suitable fuel tanks and engines to the ISS and what to you get? A spacecraft capable of a manned mission to Mars and back.

To further illustrate how misguided Easterbrook is, let us extrapolate his four point plan for NASA fifty years into the future. Were NASA to implement his plan for fifty years, NASA would have spent all that time staring at the Sun and clouds, but would have no capability to launch humans into space. And what about those dangerous asteroids? NASA would be able to see them, but would have no capability to do anything about them.

Hmmm….not very inspiring! Now let us extrapolate NASA’s current Vision for Exploration fifty years into the future. After that time NASA will have permanent settlements on the Moon and Mars. And those menacing asteroids? In much less than fifty years, NASA will have the capability to send humans to dangerous asteroids to study them up close and determine the best way to deflect them from a collision with Earth. I much prefer NASA’s Vision over Easterbrook’s.

And finally, consider this: despite millions of dollars spent, no rocket privately funded and developed by a start up has placed a single object into orbit, much less with humans aboard. NASA and its contractors have already done it hundreds of times.


Travis DeSair

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