Unless, as in February, something goes horribly wrong. When Columbia exploded, we were reminded that people are risking their lives for our space program. And if we’re going to ask them to do that, we’d better make sure the potential reward is worth the sizable risk.
After the review board’s report was issued, President Bush vowed, “Our journey into space will go on. The work of the crew of the Columbia and the heroic explorers who traveled before them will continue.”
He’s right, of course. Our journey “into” space should continue. Or, rather, it should begin. We should send NASA back to the drawing board, and order it to come up with plans to escape our orbit. Maybe the I.S.S. can somehow be retooled and used as a space-based launching pad. Otherwise it should be abandoned and allowed to come down.
We’ve got a long way to go, and it won’t be easy. Recently, Mars came as close to Earth as it’s ever been. But it was still 34.6 million miles away. To get there, we’d need new types of rockets, new spacecraft, and a new astronaut-training program. It would probably take many years, and cost billions. Still, we should choose to go to Mars, to paraphrase President Kennedy, “not because it is easy, but because it is difficult.”
It’s time to think big. We should be exploring space. But unfortunately we’ll never get out there if all we’re doing is sending people up to the I.S.S. to travel in circles.