This is kinda a placeholder for a longer piece that I want to do regarding NASA Space exploration vs its commercial counterpart. I did this as a post on Facebook in response to an article by a good friend of mine Donald Robertson.
I highly respect Donald, and I know that some would like to cast this as some kind of tug of war, but I think that this is mostly inappropriate.
In a world where rationality reigned, there is a place for both approaches, and they are complimentary to each other. This goes back to the very foundation of Western civilization’s approach to government vs private effort.
I would place SLS/Orion in the category of “internal improvements” as defined by Abraham Lincoln (who was in his private life a railroad lawyer) who saw the development of the “national railroad” as a key element of macroscopic economic development for the United States, and who prioritized resources for the national railroad even in the midst of a titanic struggle for the life of the nation. (Pacific Railway Act of 1862).
Government, in its best role is the developer (or supporter of development through favorable legislation) of macroscopic infrastructure that is then used by private enterprise to generate economic activity, that through taxation of that activity provides a return on investment to the nation.
Placing SLS/Orion in this context is that in theory they should be designed to have a high enough launch cadence (its not) to support the development of a lunar infrastructure that is then used by private enterprise to generate economic activity and thus create the virtuous circle described above. This also is not happening.
The problem is not that SLS/Orion is too expensive to develop and operate, the problem is that its use is misdirected. NASA since the 1970’s and especially since the Challenger disaster has been science dominated in its raison dat. Science is important, and is not to be cast aside, but science must not be allowed to dominate all planning and execution of our national space policy. The purpose should be to support economic development. Arthur C. Clarke saw this back in the 1960’s and stated it in the forward to Neil Ruzic’s “The Case for Going to the Moon”
“This book is a practical one. It maintains that science and space travel should have a practical purpose. Because of this attitude (as opposed both to the pure science and the political approach), and because it is written in ordinary English, this book is for three classes of readers. First, it is for intelligent payment who have wondered why we should spend all that money to go to the Moon. Second, it is for statement attempting to divest their opinions about space from vested interests as they ponder why we should spend all that money to go to the moon. Third it is for the scientists unashamed to admit that we’re all layman in someone else’s field as they contemplate why we should spend all that money to go to the moon.”
The key is “science and space travel should have a practical purpose”
The entire “fight” if you want to call it that, between the new space people and the NASA SLS/Orion supporters boil down to the science based “vision for exploration” and the practical basis. This is the issue, that if we solve it, will resolve the conflict between government space and the agitation of private space. The Bush era “Vision for Space Exploration” attempted to resolve this conflict but it was hijacked by the agents of the status quo who dismissed the “practical purpose” (See Marburger’s 2006 Goddard symposium speech) and turned it back into a science only focus and nothing more than another means whereby the defective process of the current contractor-industrial-complex uses NASA to fund high profit margin FTE’s but make little real progress. That is where the problem in execution lies on the NASA side.