NASA soars ahead, but without spirit

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    While NASA’s plan to return to the moon is commendable, its methods lack the spirit of exploration and adventure, which characterized the original Apollo program – a true failure of the American spirit.NASA plans to launch its shuttle replacement and primary craft for lunar missions, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, in 2014. The CEV is a reusable craft that will take off atop a booster rocket and will land with retro-rockets and parachutes in much the same way as the Apollo capsules landed. Any mission-specific material, such as replacement parts or modules for the space station, will be launched separately on an unmanned rocket and will dock with the CEV in orbit.

    In light of the Columbia incident, a cautious approach is not surprising. This plan is, in many ways, a step backward to the days before the shuttle. That said, the programs to make more advanced space planes were far too dangerous and would likely have made the space shuttle accidents seem small by comparison.

    According to www.space.com, the NASA/Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ X-33 VentureStar had a fuel panel that burst during testing and went unexplained and delayed the project. The X-33 program and other space plane programs ended when funding was cut or solutions to problems could not be found.

    As a temporary measure, the CEV is a great move for NASA. The new craft is 10 times safer than the shuttle, which has a one in 220 failure rate. Making this craft a part of the $104 billion plan to return to the moon leaves much to be desired.

    The first question, however, is this: why are we going to the moon with the same technology we used before?

    There are many improvements in the CEV project that make returning to the moon an easier task, but the old format of docking a command module with a lunar lander is still the same thing we had in 1969.

    The date set by NASA for a return to the Moon is 2018. Instead of trying to land by this time, why not put the money that would have gone into a lunar mission into refining a single space plane design that is capable of landing on the moon or Mars?

    What happened to the NASA of old that spent millions of dollars to develop a pen that could write in space, while the Russians simply used a pencil?

    Bush’s timetable set in 2004 of landing on the moon by 2020 is great, but if we can create a true multipurpose, reusable space vehicle, why not delay a little?

    The obvious counterargument is that this idea isn’t even feasible. The same was said, however, about landing a man on the moon within a decade. When we committed to that goal, our space program was in its fledgling stages. No one knew if it was possible, but everyone involved made it happen.

    America needs to renew its spirit of exploration and discovery.

    Instead of scattering the funds among many competing programs, NASA should launch a grand effort to advance our technology and take it a level far beyond that of the space shuttle. Is the idea even feasible? We won’t know until we try.

    With the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the rebuilding effort underway, should NASA even be committing to such a costly endeavour?

    NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told the Associated Press that natural disasters will not have bearing on the CEV or moon programs.

    “We’re talking about returning to the moon in 2018,” Griffin said. “There will be a lot more hurricanes and a lot (of) other natural disasters to befall the United States and the world in that time, I hope none worse than Katrina.”

    Setbacks will happen, but we cannot extinguish our spirit of exploration because of a little (or in this case a lot of) rain.

    One could argue that we shouldn’t even be involved in space exploration.

    Exploration, however, is a fundamental desire for humans, and space is simply the next target.

    If we do not explore, our species will simply spiral backward into, as director Kevin Smith said, entropy and mass extinction.

    Opinion Editor Brian Chatman is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Fort Worth.