Getting NASA back on track
Astronaut Sally Ride proposed a return to the moon
When the shuttle Challenger exploded off Florida 19 months ago, US space policy also went up in smoke. A series of unsuccessful launchings, including the loss of an Atlas-Centaur rocket fired into a lightning storm last march, has further devastated the space program and left it floundering.
In a 63-page report prepared for NASA and released last week, Astronaut Sally Ride attempts to set the agency back on track. She argues for an “evolutionary” policy with diverse objectives, rather than a splashy, one-goal venture. Writes Ride, who was the first American woman in space: “It would not be good strategy, good science or good policy for the US to select a single initiative, then pursue it single-mindedly.”
Specifically, Ride opposes focusing on a manned mission to Mars by 2005, a project being pushed by many enthusiasts as a great adventure that could capture the public’s imagination. “Settling Mars should be our eventual goal,” she writes, “but it should not be our next goal.” A commitment to Mars, she warns, could imperil NASA’s plans to put a shuttle fleet back in operation and build a space station. It would also require a tripling of the agency’s budget during the mid-1990s — an unrealistic prospect.
Instead, Ride recommends that the US begin by establishing a lunar outpost that could serve as a research laboratory and enable scientists to exploit the moon’s resources. “While exploring the moon,” she argues, “we would learn to live and work on a hostile world beyond earth.” Mars would logically come next. Such a stepwise approach might also spare resources for other projects. One that Ride endorses: a “mission to planet earth” that would use orbiting space platforms to study the global atmosphere.