Particularly since the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle, the United States has had a very haphazard policy when it comes to space exploration.
More recently, the scaling back of space exploration makes sense, everything from budgetary concerns to the limits of technology are all justifiable points on pulling back and regrouping for ideas — but even then, the United States lacks a clear vision of where it wants to be in the future.
In his September 1962 address to Rice University, the newly minted Honorary Professor, President John Kennedy promised, “I will assure you that my first lecture will be very brief.” In that speech, becoming one of the most iconic of the 20th Century…
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
— United States President John F. Kennedy, Rice University Stadium – 12 September 1962
Since we last left the Moon, and Apollo 17 returned to Earth, America has lacked a pointed mission on any manned mission below Low Earth Orbit. In cooperation with nations around the world, the International Space Station was established, and became a scientific outpost for people around the world, with Russia and America leading the way, united in cause, to continue exploration of space. But at only a couple-hundred miles above Earth, there’s only so much we can learn, before we once again leave the cradle of home, that is Earth.
The Orion program, launching the first human-rated spacecraft beyond Low Earth Orbit for the first time in nearly four decades, has driven the figurative “golden stake” into the ground as NASA puts it, for further space exploration, the vehicle exists… but a plan for it, however, seems to be less than clear. Sure, it’s supposed to take us to Mars… and to an Asteroid… but when? How? What crews? Have they begun putting together mission objectives? It doesn’t seem so.
With a bold, solid declaration, like that of President Kennedy’s 1962 address, America, and indeed the world, could unite in a common exploration goal. To me, today, we seem to be lurching from one goal to another, not exactly sure where we’re going next… can’t we get a solid, stated goal to go “somewhere” by “sometime?”