The former director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute heaps the blame on NASA for putting the once magical dream of space exploration on life support.
Few do, but anyone can ask the questions Klerkx raises: Why haven’t we been back to the moon in more than 30 years? Whatever happened to the idea of a human expedition to Mars? The answer, in the author’s nutshell, is that NASA is far more concerned about perpetuating its bureaucratic grip on the US space program than it is about exploring space. Flush with success from its moon program, Klerkx points out, NASA once submitted a “realistic” plan to Congress for landing a base station on Mars in 1978, followed by human exploration in 1981. Soon in retreat from the budget axe, however, the agency put all its eggs into selling the concept of a “reusable” space shuttle, which the author labels a pure and simple con: every major shuttle component, he claims, is “repaired, rebuilt, refitted or otherwise overhauled” after every flight. “NASA clings to the shuttle,” Klerkx asserts, “because it is terrified to give it up.” He thus dates the end of the original Space Age to the Challenger disaster (1986) and sees public reaction to the recent loss of Columbia on reentry as further retarding human space-exploration efforts, perhaps for decades. The author’s only heroes in all this are people like “space tourist” Dennis Tito, who after being rebuffed by NASA shelled out personal millions to pay his own way for a few days aboard the International Space Station via a Russian Soyuz. Meanwhile, the American share of total worldwide commercial space revenues, once a virtual NASA monopoly, has dwindled to 40 percent since the advent of the shuttle.
Gazing at the stars from the muck of pork-barrel politics isn’t exactly edifying, but Klerkx’s blunt indictment provides a bracing new perspective. (16 pp. b&w illustrations)