It’s been a big week for NASA in the Ogden Standard-Examiner. Tuesday’s top front-page story was about the imminent test launch of the Ares I rocket, whose booster stage is manufactured locally at ATK. Then on Wednesday, the business section ran a wire-service article on the same subject, complete with photos and graphics--plus a teaser headline at the top of the front page with a picture of the rocket stretching all the way across. The launch is scheduled for next Tuesday, so I suppose we can look forward to at least one more big article.
Meanwhile, buried inside Friday’s paper was another article, with no illustrations, about the release of the Augustine Committee report. This appointed committee of experts has concluded that NASA’s ambitious plans for human space flight are unrealistic unless its budget is increased by $3 billion per year. Even then, the most glamorous mission we can afford within 15 years is to land on a passing asteroid or comet, or perhaps fly past Mars without landing. Oh, and the Ares I rocket is too small for such a mission.
Even Friday’s article devoted only one sentence to the question of why NASA should do these things. At least according to one committee member, the reason is “to interest the American public in new destinations.” I suppose that’s more or less equivalent to “because it’s there.”
The article gave far more space to Congressman Rob Bishop’s reaction to the report, which focuses entirely on what’s in it for his district: jobs at ATK producing Ares and Space Shuttle booster rockets.
I have to congratulate the PR folks at NASA and ATK for playing-up this test launch enough to push the Augustine report off the front page. And I can hardly blame the paper for caring more about jobs in Utah than vague long-term goals.
But I find it sad that human space flight, which once represented humanity’s loftiest goals, is now viewed as little more than another jobs program.