Tuesday, October 02, 2007

5 Initiatives to Fix NASA

America's Space Program is much like sea travel before the Age of Sail, when the ancients hugged the shoreline in oar-powered galleys, fearful to venture from sight of land. Today, we would be Masters of Space, but instead are too often mastered by the challenges we face. Here are some ideas I believe NASA could use to fix our ailing government funded Space Administration:

  1. More Powerful Rockets-Chemical rockets have proven extremely volatile, as demonstrated by dramatic explosions on live TV of the COLUMBIA and CHALLENGER shuttles, plus the less publicized catastrophes of the Soviet space program. For serious journeys into deep space to occur, it’s obvious a more powerful propulsion system is needed, perhaps more efficient and safe nuclear fueled rockets.
  2. Greater Incentive-Lack of incentive is another hindrance to space exploration. Looking for spores on the surface of Mars, or signs of water on Saturn’s moon may cause NASA scientists to salivate, but is hardly enough to inspire the average taxpayer. An alternative to our dependence on foreign oil might spur a renewed space race. Perhaps future space tankers will voyage to the gaseous giants of Jupiter and Saturn to harvest hydrogen. Some scientists have speculated that rocket fuel could be forced from moon rocks to further boost us toward the stars.
  3. Militarize Space Travel-Americans should get over their fear of the militarization of space. No other government agency in recent decades has so transformed itself to changing times as the US Military. At the very least, a quasi-military force similar to the Coast Guard could be formed as an independent agency, only becoming part of the Defense Department in a national emergency. Such a “Star Corps” would form its own ranks, organize its own space and science schools, as well as construct and equip ships and bases geared toward their bold new mission.
  4. Then Privatize-Lessons learned from our Star Corps can be shared with US private industries. As the British Navy paved way for the widespread settlement of the new world, the future military would be pathfinders for the colonization and utilization of the planets. Initiatives for merchant ships and trade bases can be funded privately, as in the X-Prize which gave us Spaceship One, or be federally (though not fully) funded.
  5. Better Space Ships-Our ancient space shuttle fleet, built on the cheap to start with, has been a disastrous failure in recent years. Today’s manned and unmanned space probes rely exclusively on momentum, as in a sling shot effect, to get from point A to point B. Other than maneuvering rockets, these vehicles are uncontrollable at all times. New “space cutters” will carry ion or nuclear engines, which can produce sustained thrust and allow for increased speeds. A future trip to the Moon would only take a few hours, rather than days, and the planned Mars mission a few weeks instead of many months.
Admittedly, most of these ideas come from a lifetime of reading Science Fiction, but rather than this being a drawback, it should be recalled that great sci-fi writers like Jules Verne and HG Wells prophesied the advent of the submarine, the airplane, and flights into space. I believe if we return to the dreams as envisioned by these prophets, and consider all that has been accomplished, it might spur us on to do even greater things.