Lately, there’s been lots of talk about what NASA should be doing with their budget. Alright, it’s been a while that it’s been an important topic of conversation. Ok… Ok, I can hear you, it’s been a long, long time that we’ve been talking about what NASA’s vision should be (even with several actual visions along the way). Basically, since the Apollo program, NASA and it’s budget has been a constant source of what should we do next and why are we doing the wrong thing. But I’ll say something controversial here. I don’t care!
Before you call me a heretic, hear me out, please. While I don’t care exactly what NASA does, I do care about increasing space activity in general. We should be a multi-planet civilization. We should explore our backyard and in the process find solutions to problems down here, from climate change to strengthening our economy.
I see two priorities to achieve that goal. We need to increase the amount of total funding going towards space activities and we need to be efficient with what we do with that funding. We need a bigger pie and we need to eat it all.
I’ll explain the total funding first. I want as many dollars spent towards space as we can. I don’t care if we need to perform political maneuvers to get more funding for NASA, as long as we get more funding. But what that does mean is we need to engage more with the general public. We need astronauts like Chris Hadfield who promote space as an interesting place to be. The weird part is that it should never have been uninteresting to begin with.
Should we go to the moon next, or mars? Or maybe an asteroid? I don’t care, we just need to start engaging the general public with this first step to the rest of the solar system. And we do that, through story telling, music, entertainment and yes, space tourism. I know many people aren’t thrilled that we aren’t going far with suborbital tourism. But I see this as a new way of tapping some of that funding for space activities. Virgin Galactic, Xcor, Scaled Composites and all the other countless suborbital ventures will provide fertile breading ground for new ideas and further funding opportunities. Ones that work with whatever goal NASA has.
But what if NASA decides to change paths? Well that’s where I raise my second point. We need to be efficient with what we do. Space is expensive. We all know that. We need to take every dollar we can, and use it to start putting hardware into space. And we need to be able to reuse that hardware. As often as possible.
Take for instance, the International Space Station. It is an impressive project, one that cost billions of dollars, one that will be worth every penny, but one that will fall to the ocean as a flaming wreak in a few short years. Why? Oh, I understand there are costs to keep it running, and we don’t want it becoming more space debris, but can’t we salvage some of it at least? Turn it into a hotel, or a propellant depot? Or auction it off bit by bit to whatever company wants to buy them? I’m sure you could find someone who would pay for the mass that has been sent up to orbit for them. And getting money would be better than spending money to de-orbit the thing.
Let’s stop arguing among ourselves and instead focus on what really matters. How do we get more funding for space activities? And how do we make our activities more efficient? How do we make a bigger pie? And how do we eat it all?