We Aimed for the Stars…


Here is an excerpt of an op-ed I just wrote for Space News.  Would love to hear your thoughts. The entire article can be found at: http://www.space.com/spacenews/archive09/obrienoped_0119.html

Truth is, we have done nothing to equal (much less top) the accomplishments of Apollo. And even worse, we haven’t tried. We did something truly great, but then walked away from it. We had lightning in a bottle — and we opened the lid.

Our country has been pulling the rug out from under NASA ever since Apollo. Really, the agency is running on fumes from rocket fuel that was purchased (on a credit card no doubt) in 1961.

Why did we allow it to slip through our fingers? Sometimes I get the feeling we are the only nation that just doesn’t get it,because we are either cocky or stupid or distracted — or all of the above.


73 Responses to “We Aimed for the Stars…”

  1. Liftoff Lady Says:

    I remember a quote Lyndon B. Johnson said about the demise of the Apollo Program which echoes the above sentiments. It goes something like this: “It is funny how the American people are. Rather than take this technology and use it to its fullest extent they would rather just piss it all a way.”

  2. Alan Stern Says:

    Mikes– Bravo!! Very well put! We do need a game changing rethink about space and its importance to society.

    I will offer one thought if you are still looking for inputs. When you say, “So don’t tell me this great, rich country of ours can’t afford to be in space — I am sick of hearing that refrain” I would recommend strengthening that sentence since we are clearly in space and the issue is about our level or audacity and leadership. So perhaps something more like, “So don’t tell me this great, rich country of ours can’t afford to lead and inspire again in bold ways in space — I am sick of hearing that refrain.” ?

    I was away west for the CC meeting this week. Looking forward to seeing you perhaps at Spacefest or elsewhere along the road.


  3. Guillermo Sohnlein Says:

    You raise a number of excellent points, but the one I’ve been wrestling with the most recently is this one:

    “Sometimes I get the feeling we are the only nation that just doesn’t get it, because we are either cocky or stupid or distracted — or all of the above.”

    And you’re right in that this has implications far outside the space “bubble.”

    This issue has been troubling me over the past couple of years for two reasons:

    (1) I have spent more and more of my time outside the U.S. working with technologists, entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and government officials actively seeking to unlock the secrets of the “American Innovation Machine” (and replicate it in their own countries); and

    (2) I am raising three young children (ages 10, 8, and 4) and trying to instill in them the intellectual curiosity, work ethic, and cultural/historical appreciation my parents instilled in me when we immigrated from Argentina.

    I have to tell you that what I’m seeing scares me for the future of the U.S.

    The rest of the world seems to be moving forward at a frenetic pace, driven by a passion that seems to be waning–if not disappearing–in our country. Worse, the next generation of young Americans (like my kids) seem to be more interested in “fake” things (such as TV, movies, and video games) than in “real” things (such as playing outside, taking trips, and building things)

    Granted, some of this is just the nature of what it means to be a kid nowadays, but I have to tell you that even THAT is an American attitude: I’ve seen children the same age as my own in other countries who do not share this view of “childhood.” I also realize that my wife and I have to take the blame for allowing this to happen within our family, but then again it seems to be a national phenomenon and so it hits our kids at school or with their friends.

    Last month for Hanukkah, we got the kids “Rock Band” for the Wii, hoping that it would finally inspire them to take music lessons. The plan backfired. Yes, they were inspired to play music, but they just didn’t see the need to spend years practicing to play a “real” instrument when they were doing just fine playing their “fake” instruments. D’oh!

    Then again …

    Just this morning, I was watching my 8-year-old son build yet another Star Wars ship out of LEGOs. I asked him if it ever bothered him that none of the things he liked so much about Star Wars were actually real. I asked him if he wouldn’t like to someday have a real light saber, fly in a real spaceship with hyperdrive, visit real cities on other planets, or meet other real alien lifeforms. He actually thought about it for 10-15 seconds and then surprised me with his answer, “You know what, Dad, you’re right: I think I want to be a scientist when I grow up so I can invent or discover all those things!”

    OK … so maybe there is SOME hope yet!

  4. PattyHartwell Says:

    I have read many articles and blogs that compare our lackluster space program with what China and India are doing-as a way of saying hey wake up, smell the coffee – what does China and India understand, that we don’t understand. What I like about your article is that it calls on the entire Space community to be responsible for what is happening – to fight for what it wants, for what it sees we need as a nation. If they don’t put up a fight – show us their passion, advocate, tell us why they care, show us why we should care – chances are we might never care in our lifetimes. Each and every scientist who wants our space program to matter again, needs to take this up as a personal cause. Otherwise the space program is a long way off from ever mattering again in this country.

  5. Diana Jennings Says:

    Frankly Miles, we as a nation DID piss it away. NASA, always a political football, expanded its scope and activities in response to porkbarrel pressures. Internally, it became more risk-averse and stultified in bureauocracy. Innovative ideas from outside the agency fell victim to the “not invented here” syndrome. And now, faced with a truly horrific economic situation, our country will not be investing in NASA- it’s just not fiscally prudent.

  6. Diana Jennings Says:

    and PS- your presence on the Space beat on CNN is truly missed.

  7. Gene Kranz Says:

    Bravo….. we have tried for years but still cannot communicate the significance of the work we have done.
    Cheers – “White” flight

  8. Tracy Says:

    If/when China becomes a national threat in space, watch how quickly we gear up once again. The space program was born of the cold war when we needed someone to beat. Same reason Olympic hockey games aren’t as much fun anymore

  9. Keith Vauquelin Says:


    First – let me say how much we all miss your coverage of America’s space program. CNN, to use a delightful aerospace metaphor, “screwed the pooch,” when they let you go.

    Second – leadership from the White House is required to turn the decay of America’s space program around and get it on track. A leader must say”we are going to do this,” whatever “this” is, and not wait on polls or political winds to sway opinion in his direction.

    After that tax dollars pay for our exploration efforts (unfortunately).

    As I last recall reading, 6/10’s of one cent of every federal tax dollar pays for all NASA programs.

    This point needs to be made clearly to taxpayers – so that they understand the MAGNITUDE of how much money goes to Washington in the form of federal tax dollars.

    Provided my numbers are correct, how about WE THE PEOPLE make it law that ONE CENT of every federal tax dollar is used to fund NASA?

    Can we NOT afford an additional 4/10’s of one cent federal tax burden to be the leader in space exploration?

    The pathetically ignorant nature of the American people is reflected in the math the numbers herein discussed represent.

    Refusing to recognize and amplify on the leadership necessary and the funding required for space exploration will ensure our ships are burned ships in the harbor of history.

    For all of the challenges faced by our country and society, the retreat from the challenge of exploration will end the American experiment. I wish this was not true, but history tells me otherwise.

    We must have free press, all of us, speaking out loud and clearly, on these points.

    Thank you for your interest and efforts, Miles – the service you do has far greater implications than you, are any of us, realize.

  10. James Moore Says:

    Cocky? Yes. Distracted? Most definitely (see American Idol). Stupid? I’m not sure that I’m willing to go that far – yet.

    As someone who is personally involved in education and public outreach (E/PO), I would like to pass along an interesting observation. I visit schools on a regular basis. After I make a presentation, I try to follow up with the teachers to see if there are any unanswered questions, feedback on what I can do to improve the presentation, etc. To a person, each one of the teachers makes the following comment:

    “The students continued to talk about space for the rest of the day. They were so excited!”

    That’s right. I took some time out of my day and spent an hour with schoolchildren to talk about space. It wasn’t me that connected with them; it was the subject matter. The images alone spoke for themselves – I really didn’t have to say anything, but I served as a “tour guide” to help them understand what they were seeing. All of us had a great time!

    There are a lot of individuals like me who are “space geeks” – ordinary men and women who have a passion for learning about the universe around us and are willing to share our knowledge with anyone who will give us the opportunity to do so.

    Seek us out. We’re involved in the local astronomy club, volunteering at the local planetarium or science center or museum, blogging on the Internet, twittering on Twitter. We volunteer our time through groups like NASA’s Night Sky Network or JPL’s Solar System Ambassador program. It’s the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009), so there is a HUGE effort underway to make sure you know how to find us.

    Oh, and bring your children. Please.

    Get involved. I’m not a rocket scientist, an astronaut, an astrophysicist or a college professor. I am an amateur astronomer (with the emphasis on amateur), and I have found a couple of ways to share my passion for astronomy with others. All of the aforementioned groups are looking for members/volunteers. Join them.

    There are other ways to get involved as well. Check out spacehack.org for starters. You might be surprised at what you find.

    Do I have the presentation skills of von Braun, Sagan, Squyers or Stern? No. But what I do have is a passion for space. Come join the grand adventure.

    Clear skies! — James

  11. milesobrien Says:

    I appreciate all these comments. We need to figure out how to turn our sentiments into come action. Maybe the time is right to change some minds…

  12. Heather Says:

    Artfully put. I am involved in NASA weightlessness research and am sometimes verbally challenged about the usefulness of the space prorgam. This always stuns me, given the advancements that NASA has presented “for the benefit of all.” Your full article brings up so many fantastic points and I agree wholeheartedly (right down to von Braun spinning!)

    I wrote a post late last year about why I thought it was important to see the BIGGER PICTURE of how NASA operates, and why it’s crucial for us to support space exploration. Would love to know your thoughts if you have time to read.


  13. SpaceElevatorGuy (Michael Laine) Says:

    Alan is right. Terrific article, but I’d modify it slightly.

    I just spent the summer in Barcelona, with the International Space University Space Studies Program, and I think you comments on Bangalore are right on the mark. Keep up the good work!

    I also tweeted this article, as did several of my friends.

    Take care. mjl

  14. Joe Stone Says:

    Hello Miles and it is indeed good to see your commentary.
    A couple of clarifying points. The decsion for Apollo 8 to go to the moon was not Von Braun’s at all. He just needed to certify that the launch vehicle was man ready (no small task given the problems of SA502 (Apollo 6). The decison makers were George Low and James Webb. Now, with the benefits of access to historical archives, it is clear that this these folks had real “stones”.
    Which is relevant to your article. In my opinion, NASA reflects our current culture and national mood. Rather than being passionately driven to a singular goal, NASA and we are now risk adverse and multi focused. We, as a society, have become too dependent upon government. Government, in turn, is now our benefactor, even if many of our economic problems were created by wrong or self serving individuals.
    If you listened to Obama’s radio address this morning, much of economic stimulus package is directed to national infrastructure, alternative energy production, and social needs (schools, etc.). I believe that during this administration there will be “no bucks and no Buck Rogers”. Unless NASA can articulate a vision and goal that helps these priorities, we will be dependent upon the Space X’s to have access to space, much less a translunar voyage.

  15. Matt Bille Says:

    First, it’s good to see your name in the media again after CNN trashed a respected and vital reporting unit. It’s not only governments who can make stupid decisions.
    On the point of your editorial, NASA has never succeeded in making the case to the public that it only gets a fraction of a percent of the federal budget and that the returns (engineering, medical, scientific, and cultural) more than justify a larger investment. Since NASA is somewhat limited (both by budget and by policy) in its ability to promote its case, it’s important that all of us who believe in the wonder and promise of space keep making that case in every forum we can. Thanks for your well-spoken addition to the cause.
    Matt Bille
    author, The First Space Race: Launching the World’s First Satellites (Texas A&M, 2004)

  16. ronzaguli Says:

    Great comments. I used to work at NASA (from 83-98). I left in 98 to pursue other ways to inspire people about the space program. I wrote this letter to Griffin a couple years ago. I got a response that was positive and it was forwarded to Acosta to follow up – NOTHING HAPPENED! NASA needs to take some of the blame for failed PR activities – so many opportunities have been lost – its truly sad. I am truly shocked that last year – NASA’s 50th – was not celebrated in a big way – HOW COULD THEY LET THAT PASS??? What company would ever fail to celebrate 50 years? It makes no sense. NASA, if it is to survive, needs to find an administrator that will not only be smart about the technical challenges but also able promote the agency – something Griffin never saw the need to do. The public wants to support NASA but it must do something to help them. I stand ready to help.

    Dear Administrator Griffin :

    I am writing you with utmost respect and hope for the future of NASA.
    I worked for NASA from 1983-1998 but left in January of 1998 to pursue my
    goal of promoting space exploration – something I feel NASA has no continuing mechanism in place to do. Over the years I have observed NASA’s public affairs office do very little to put back the wonder in the public’s
    eyes that I experienced growing up and which drove me to join NASA after
    college. For many years I have heard – “NASA can’t do that” – “We’re
    not allowed to promote ourselves” – “Headquarters wouldn’t allow that” –

    At a time when the agency has been focusing on Return to Flight,
    precious little has been done to keep the public excited and hopeful about space exploration. How does NASA expect to garner public support when it
    does so little to not only get people excited in what it does, but to keep them
    excited for the long term? I have heard many say that’s a problem –
    we can’t do that – we aren’t allowed. I have to disagree. I think that in addition to a clear direction for NASA’s exploration efforts, it must also have an exciting approach to keeping the public believing and supporting them – not just at a time when things go wrong. I once heard a NASA manager on the verge of retirement say, “We are building the pyramids and the public is
    sleeping.” In an editorial I sent to the Houston Chronicle my response was “It’s not that the public is sleeping – it’s that NASA is doing so little to make
    them sit up and take notice.” The question then becomes – how do you
    go about accomplishing this?

    Think outside the box. Create an “outreach” skunkworks activity that
    is populated with individuals normally not part of the “NASA Process”.
    Team NASA engineers and managers with representatives of the film and
    television industry (actors like Hanks and Cruise and directors like Cameron),
    writers, artists, educators, motivational speakers (like Tony Robbins),
    promotional experts etc etc in an all out, no holds barred look at how
    do you grab people and keep them excited for the long haul. Nothing
    should be considered “Off the table”. Things like:

    1. Teaming with motion picture theatres who now routinely show “Join
    the Marines” pieces and countless commercials to develop and show periodic
    “NASA Reels” of what’s happening and what’s coming – possibly narrated
    by Tom Hanks? Tom Cruise? I’m sure Boeing and USA would support such an
    effort as well.

    2. Develop associations with the major networks to have periodic NASA
    Moments. Why was there so little done about National Space Day? I saw
    nothing on the major networks about it. PROMOTE PROMOTE PROMOTE.

    3. Create tie-ins with major marketing programs – my 10 year old
    wondered why there aren’t any NASA toys at McDonalds – a good question since the last ones were almost 15 years ago. There are many opportunites like this – explore them.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. When NASA is planning to “Take
    the Next Giant Leap” it needs to get working on its public image. Make
    people sit up and take notice – it will assure that future budget battles are
    easier to win.


    Ron Zaguli

  17. Wes Oleszewski Says:

    What a GREAT piece Miles! Says it all and it the most constructive way. This is part of the reason why I’m in the model rocket biz. It is not for scads of cash- but rather to inject the spirit back into the masses in a fun way. It’s the hook I had placed into me back in 1969.

    In doing that I have found that there is, however, a very bright spot in where we are today… teachers. In today’s schools, those who would teach spaceflight history, demo. model rockets and spark intrest in the space program and human spaceflight are not frowned upon as they would have been in the era when Apollo was smothered to death. All is not lost folks- the closet space buff of the 70s and their children are helping us make it re-happen. Now- if we can only find the attention of those elected- we may just get ahead.

    PS… Holy #%&T! My words are on the same web page as Gene Kranz! (Maybe that writes tonoght’s cartoon strip- watch Monday)

  18. Geoffrey A. Landis Says:

    Good editorial. I wrote something similar in “In ’69,” which was in Analog a few months back– http://www.geoffreylandis.com/In-69.html , if you care.

    By the way, thanks for your talk at the MER five-years-on-Mars anniversary celebration last week at JPL– sorry to see you missing from CNN, but I’m looking forward to seeing where else you go from here. Upward, I’m sure!

  19. squawky Says:

    Miles, fantastic article – I wish I was reading it in my local newspaper… somewhere that the non-space enthusiast will see it.

    It always amazes me how little the average taxpayer seems to know about where their tax money goes (yes you can find out, but it wasn’t easy the last time I tried). The first time I taught a planetary science course, I polled the students about their opinions on NASA’s budget – many of them thought the percentage of money going to NASA was much higher than it actually is. It’s always interesting to see how similar students react to learning that NASA put Pathfinder on Mars for roughly the same cost as putting in a new NFL or MLB stadium. (Of course, there are always the ones who want to know why we don’t put those millions of dollars into education, or health care, etc. – but that’s another discussion.)

    Does anyone know of an easy to use site that breaks down the Federal budget into spending categories, to make it easier to educate the public?

    The failures are often referred to as “money losses”, even though that money is often spent within our own economy – want an economic stimulus for the aerospace industry? Give NASA $2 billion for an outer planet flagship mission, or a bit more for a return to the Moon… and then see how the technologies that need to be developed for that type of mission trickle down eventually to commercial use.

    We complain that the U.S. is falling behind STEM education – lower test scores, fewer graduates. But we fail to inspire those students to go into these fields when they’re younger (remember the Voyager pictures and the initial shuttle launches? For some of us who were too young to remember the Apollo program, these were inspirations to be scientists or engineers).

    @Guillermo Sohnlein – about kids today and “real” things… I’m not convinced (although I’m not a parent) that these are bad things, necessarily. For me, I learned a great deal from sitting in front of my computer screen… I played video games, yes, but it made me more comfortable with technology — not just using it, but learning how it works; tinkering with programming, opening up parts to see if I could make them work better. (I also have to wonder if the hand-eye coordination used in playing video games might not help future astronauts with remote controlled operations – but we have a generation of kids that should be good at this as is.) It’s about balance, I think – seeing Saturn in the sky, seeing Saturn through a telescope is an awesome experience… but I can learn much more about the Saturn system looking through my computer screen at high resolution spacecraft images. Learning how to balance the “real world” and the “not-real world” is something we all have to learn – why not start out with our parents’ help as kids?

  20. ernst wilson Says:


    all I can say is: ” not to be in space is not an option”, as I trust many current and on-the-make (like myself) policy makers are well aware of the last 40 years achievements. Upon reflecting, they need to learn how to showcase their genuine enabling visionary leadership, foster and promote adequate strategic national capability.

  21. Rocket Science Mom Says:

    Wow, Alan Stern commented! We miss you at NASA very much Mr. Stern. You don’t know the half of it.

    I am 100% in agreement with him.

    I am still at NASA and have spent my whole career trying to do those great things I know we can do, only to have this program or that program cancelled. Constellation might be different, but then again maybe not.

    All I can do is do my best engineering job and hope that those in decision making power will do their part.

  22. mane man Says:

    Credit cards didn’t exist in 1961. The currency was backed by gold. Any money exported had to be backed by exporting an equivalent amount of gold, so you couldn’t wake up & spend a few billion dollars to import kerosine when you felt like it. You had to produce enough economic value locally to import enough gold to buy the kerosine.

  23. Dave Borzillo Says:

    I was born a few months before the last manned moon landing so I don’t remember anything of that era. I grew up watching the shuttle and in awe about what we could do in space. Then as I grew older I realized that our motivation for manned spaceflight was not for scientific purposed, but to flex our muscle in the Cold War. This was like the shock of being dunked in cold water. Although, I always hoped that with the spark the full fire would eventually be lit and we would have a thriving space program in the USA.

    A manned Mars landing never happened in 1982. The SEI under the Bush, Sr. stalled. Two shuttles were lost to scenarios that could have been prevented. Not looking so good for that fire to burn now is it?

    Although there is some glimmer of hope. The international cooperation on putting a space station together is a real achievement to me. Maybe space can really be that place where we as a people can put our best foot forward together. Just as the founders of the US sacrificed that we can enjoy freedom maybe we can combine technology with the relationships of other countries to accomplish even more than what we can dream of today.

    Even as Americans alone, we should still strive and push the envelopes. I wonder what the big advancements of this decade will be for spaceflight. Maybe we will travel faster than light in this century. Why not? Will I be able to buy a ticket to orbit one day just like I can get on a commercial airline flight? There are so many possibilities.

    Ok, I’m starting to ramble and I don’t want to repeat what the other excellent comments have already pointed out. The older I get, the more I think about these things and the more I’m motivated to speak out, dive in, and get to work on moving the ball forward.


  24. NASA_Youngster Says:

    I am 25 years old and started working at NASA as a co-op when I was 19. I can honestly tell you, I am hooked. I believe what we do is of the utmost importance. It breaks my heart when people say “NASA is a waste of time.”

    Folks of my parents’ generation have forgotten the brilliance of the Apollo days. How amazing it must have been to sit glued to the television watching Apollo 11. Or how concerned and prayerful the country was for 13.

    Unfortunately, my generation has been plaged with the negative memories. Challenger and Columbia rest in their minds as a constant reminder of NASA’s darker days. These memories have turned into a pessimism about our Agency. And this pessimism stands as a basis for their lack of support for this amazing administration.

    I believe in NASA. I believe we can and will bring NASA back around to the capture the minds and hearts of the American people. We just need the opportunity to do it. With a host of believers, anything is possible.

  25. Dan Roberts Says:

    Miles you are on! The way to get Congress and the new President to get on board is to lobby, lobby and lobby them! No buck, no buck rodgers and if the politicos of both political parties realize that there is great number of people who clamor for a return of humans to the moon and beyond they will hear us. The media has never been very kind to NASA and we always hear how much some probe costs and never the benefits!
    We’re always hearing how America can’t afford it and that’s just bunk.
    It needs to be impressed on everyone what the benefits a robust space program can have on revitalizing our economy.

  26. Carlos Says:

    Miles, I fervently hope your words are true – and we simply have a case of “not caring”. Why? Because then we can fix the problem! We can get the country to care about, whether by proselytizing, inspiring children or maneuvering politicians. But part of me wonders, is it that we have lost our drive, or is it that we have extended ourselves so much that we can only go downhill?

    The problem is not just with the space program, but with almost every other major program started by the government in the second half of the 20th century!

    – The original Interstate highway system, completed from 1957 through 1992 cost $425B in US$2006 (according to Wikipedia). Could we build that number of highways in today’s environment. Could we do it for that price? How much do we spend a year just maintaining these highways, let alone building new ones?

    – When was the last time a major U.S. Metropolitan area built a subway system to the scale of those in NYC, Washington D.C, or Boston? Could a city today build such a system?

    – And let’s not even mention purely financial systems like Social Security!

    Apathy and a failure to thrive can be solved… Let’s hope that is all we are suffering from!

  27. Jim Hillhouse Says:

    Miles, great to hear your thoughts again. I and others really miss your Space coverage on CNN.

    I have worked on-and-off in Space advocacy, as time permitted, since the late 1980’s. And I had to agree with Mike Griffin when he stated that one of Space exploration’s biggest hinderances is the Space advocacy community itself. First, there are as many groups advocating Space as there are months of the year, and this for a very small portion of the U.S. budget. And each group has its own agenda, one that usually includes language about how badly NASA has mucked up things. The blogosphere is no better. Go to NASA Watch, SpacePolitics, and other sites and you see anti Ares I, anti Constellation, and until the 20th anti Mike Griffin vitriol. And that’s just the posts–the comments sections are, to put it politely, inflammatory. Add to the mix NASA’s own poor PR skills and it’s no wonder that the view of NASA and our Space exploration efforts by the American people are so warped.

    Dr. Hans Mark once told me that NASA had a constituency of one–the President. I think it’s a bit more grey today, if Senator Nelson’s and Rep. Gorton’s efforts to affect NASA’s budget are any indication.

    Lastly, Election 2008 was the first time that manned Space became a big political issue, one in which candidates were falling all over themselves to promise more money, usually around $2 Billion, to NASA to close the Shuttle-Orion gap. This is huge–I’ve worked on political campaigns since 1988 and never once have I heard Space anything. And I don’t think Space will diminish in 2012 as a political issue.

    Personally, I think things are better than we see.

  28. Rich Mathews Says:

    As a child of the sixties my Dad in the Air Force I was surrounded by aerospace and aviation. To this day I believe the “spirit” that was instilled in us in the 60’s (Thanks Gene!) is still within us all today. Miles clearly your article and your work is helping to spread that “spirit”! I also think we can all continue to “push the envelope” and get the word out. In many ways. We are in difficult but also fascinating times in science! I hope this doesn’t sound to corny but it’s time for US to “seize the day”!


  29. ernst wilson Says:

    go to: NASAWATCH.GOV and under COMMENTS of item: “THINGS WE USE TO DO”, peruse Matt Johnson’s comment (the one before the very last comment). I find his language cogent, informative, pleasantly and intelligently dissenting, crisp, and refreshing.

  30. ernst wilson Says:

    so sorry! NOT nasawatch.gov BUT nasawatch.com

  31. Duffey Says:

    While thrilled Obama is now in the White House… I am more than a little concerned that while campaigning in Florida… he never tried to sugar coat or mislead us into believing he had plans to revamp NASA with the budget needed to make it soar again.

    However… with the current initiatives to create jobs in the green, energy, health care, transportation, and other sectors to grow the economy… maybe there is a bigger benefit from putting part of the pie back into the space program!

    Who better than Miles-O is equipped to “educate” the new team of federal decision makers? I am NOT urging Miles join the Lobby Corp… but take on the task of being more as like an Enlightenment Chief. He could do for adults what the Challenger Learning Centers do for kids – preach the virtues of reaching for the stars! How many times have we heard him on TV, offer alternative ideas, starting with, “What if we look at…” (And he turns over a model to reveal a reality few of us have seen… like a vulnerable area on the underside of the shuttle near the wing.)

    It may be wishful thinking by an old TV producer… but I think the Obama team is open to new ideas. They just need to hear them from people with CREDIBILITY. And who among us carries more of that… and no longer under contract to provide it exclusivly to a (now) much poorer cable net?

    Sorry for monopolizing so much space on your blog, MO’B… but I think it time you step up to a far more important Challenge. How does it feel to have the world depending on you?

  32. Robert Ross Says:

    Very nice article Miles. I’m glad you’re still presenting thought-provoking ideas for the public. I’m a Canadian with great affection & respect for the accomplishments of NASA, and a great love of space & spaceflight. I only wish Canada had as much love of space as it could have. We were the third nation to put a satellite in space, help to provide Canadarm for the shuttle and Canadarm2/MBS/Dextre for the ISS. Now, I don’t know where we stand. Neither, it seems, does the USA.

    We had this dream, of touching the stars. We were advancing ourselves through the ages, to that inner desire to explore and seek knowledge. It culminated into that one giant goal when we (the human race) landed on the moon. And then, it seems, many in power (USA) thought that we had achieved the ultimate goal and reigned supreme. Costs became an issue, for a vehicle and launch system that could no longer be afforded. But it wasn’t to move to another dream, it was to move to another reality: long-term sustainability. The idea of a reuseable launch vehicle (shuttle) turned into the most complex & cpstly vehicles at the time, a questionable launch schedule, and fragile TPS. Then an investment into Space Station Freedom, through cost escalations turned into the ISS with international help of many nations, including Russia, Canada, and Europe. Now with the worrisome realities of risky launch vehicle (shuttle), and a new vision to go back to the moon on a new launch vehicle, we are faced with a ‘gap’ that may see the USA not able to reach the ISS without its Russian partners.

    If I were an American, I’d be asking some hard questions of our politicians. We spent over a hundred billion dollars for the space station, and can barely afford to operate it, and now as soon as we get it built we want to go back to the moon? And in so doing we may need to abandon the station because our next generation launcher, Ares-I, is so far behind schedule, might be poorly performing, under-funded, and severely over-budget (taking money away from other programs), that it has to cut safety features out of the vehicle it intends to launch (Orion)? And also in moving away from the shuttle you abandon a workforce to its own peril in these trying times when there are other options? A Popular Mechanics article shows what can be done.

    There is too much ‘lack of clear direction’ on all fronts to really know if the USA is really intent on maintaining a presence in space. Space is expensive, space is dangerous, and that will not change anytime soon. But it develops technologies, it inspires young minds, it can create and develop an industry to help move an economy. It provides jobs for those in higher education looking for employment. Buying Russian flights does not, it just throws money out of the country. Spending money in the USA for its own goals of space exploration can turn a country around and give people a purpose. Funding NASA properly, and providing proper oversight such as internal checks to minimize poor direction is the only way this country will find its purpose again. Wake up America, the time is right for a new direction in space exploration. Fund NASA properly, give it the 1% of the budget it deserves.

  33. Mike Seibert Says:


    Excellent editorial. It reminded me that I do need to get out there and speak more about what I do on MER, and not just to the technical community.

    While NASA does amazing things everyday, I agree the communication of those things to the American people and the world is lacking. My best friend, who does promotions and marketing for major radio stations (and is very good at it), summed up what may be the over-simplified but yet accurate solution: “you (NASA) need to get out and tell your story.” He noticed that while he was fairly in tune to the activities of NASA and the space industry, that was only because of daily conversations with me.

    The major problem with NASA public affairs is that it, like the rest of NASA, appears to be driven in part by “earmarked” objectives. Public affairs is now about how to meet a small educational objective, or how to highlight work being done in Congressional districts.

    I believe that if Public Affairs would simply be “rebooted” and focus on showing the general public how cool all of this is, there would be more of a public focus on what the space program does and can do. You never know, the new desire to have transparency in the government may just help get the information out there.

    But for the time being I’ll continue telling everyone who will listen about all the cool things Spirit and Opportunity are doing.

  34. cnnfan Says:

    All amazing promotions eventually end up as going out of business sales. NASA is no exception. At least that is what I can’t help but feel like while reading this high quality blog. This kind of talent belongs on TV. The fact that it is free to read, is a troubling sign of the economic times. It shouldn’t be like this. Miles, I want to pay to read this blog.

  35. Joshua Neubert Says:


    Thank you for all that you do. It is great to see your continued enthusiasm in publicly promoting exploration. Guillermo mentioned something I have come to see as critically important in all of our efforts to promote space exploration, or any area of science. Our “American Innovation Machine” is breaking, not to the point that it will completely stop working, but just enough so that we have to pull over to the side of the road and put another quart of oil in it every few miles. Whereas students in other countries are learning how to innovate from the ground up, students in the United States have to learn how to innovate against the best efforts of our education system. As much as I dream about it and wish for the day to come where NASA’s budget numbers really do eek out those other 4/10ths of a cent as Keith mentions, I cannot imagine that happening – no matter the economy – unless we create a populace from the ground up that is taught to innovate and appreciate the real, exciting world of discovery. I cannot wait for the day when our politicians have grown up through an education system that does not put every roadblock possible in the way as they develop real skills of creativity and innovative thinking. When that happens, we shouldn’t have to struggle to simply keep a modicum of space exploration alive.

  36. Jim Fields Says:

    The Apollo 11 mission is, and will unmistakably always be, the most important achievement mankind has ever made. A million years from now, it will be that moment, when man leapt from their indigenous world, which will be seen as the “beginning” of our journeys throughout the universe… or the end of it.

    The work done from that point has been beneficial and will be used for future endeavors. But the next leap, yes the one that will still be less audacious historically than Apollo 11, must stand on these past events so that when we achieve space faring capability we can look back and celebrate the initial achievements. We can’t keep celebrating the moon landing (an subsequent ones) without taking the next step.

    It is simple as this: Build a moon base and then get on to the next planet already.

    We need a moon base because it right here (days away not months) and it is outside of the Van Allen belt. It is the ideal place to learn how to survive on another planet as well as hone our transport capability. Many ask why build a moon base for that? Can’t we just practice in the Arctic or some other extreme environment? And I submit that on the moon you can’t call in a helicopter if you’re sick. On the moon you don’t press the “emergency” button to get more oxygen. There is a whole different mentality when you burn the bridge behind you and try to exist in the actual new world… this is not a test.

    I find myself trapped in the same odd dilemma that I think Mr. Kranz and Mr. O’brien have found themselves. How do you communicate the importance of NASA? The importance of what it means to try to fulfill a dream that is beyond the individual but for humanity itself. And if that can be conveyed, how do we wake an uninspired nation?

    Uninspired nation indeed. That’s right, frankly this is the most embarrassing generation the country has seen. And I know, I’m part of the current generation; and we are the most selfish, greedy, lazy, unmotivated group of adolescents the world has witnessed. We still have the brainpower (presumably), but now it is focused on creating the better viagra (see idiocracy for a more accurate depiction of this generation), the “wildest” website, and trying to figure out what else we can bloody advertise on. Will facebook get us out of this galaxy? If I “Google” enough will it feel like I’ve landed on the moon? Even the definition of technology has been watered down. When did software that helps you spell correctly be called technology? When did clicking the mouse to “add something to your cart” become the “hot technology?” Isn’t a LASER technology? Isn’t controlling an explosion to blast people into space a technology? The two cannot occupy the same domain and should therefore not occupy the lexicon of any society. We need another term for “technology that will not last the day”, I leave this to Mr. O’brien as an exercise.

    It was after World War II that we saw the greatest expansion of our Nation’s intellect. German scientists fled to our country and Von Braun led the way for NASA. At the same time the GI Bill gave a generation a shot at college and home ownership. It transformed our country. People who had never gone anywhere went out into the world during the war, came back and realized what a precious world we live in back at home and wanted to become better and the GI Bill have them that chance. The US primed the University pump and people came. The fact of the matter is that when 1969 arrived we had already won. The hard work of transforming a Nation occurred in the 1950s. So yes, it is more than “prudent” to invest now.

    We have had no such sacrifice for this generation. No equivocal hardship (save for a few). Instead, the trials and tribulations of this generation lie in cell phone dropage “agony”, internet downtime, and email “nightmares.”

    We will not achieve anything unless this Nation is willing to invest in sound technological projects. The Super Collider was embarrassingly cut years ago and now we send all of our scientists over to hang out with the Swiss at the Hadron Collider to find the secrets of the Universe (and possible launch technologies). Shall we cut Space as well? Perhaps we can send our scientists to China and India in the years to come so we can watch some launches and write about foreign heroes.

    So here is the crux of the matter we have heard so many times, why send a man? Why indeed? John Young had the best reason, “because man can anticipate.” But here’s the problem… you either think man should go into space or you don’t. It is an amazing quandary we have before us, but there you have it. It is quite impossible to convince someone who doesn’t think it is useful to send a man into space otherwise… and vice versa. And yet, against these odds, here are some reasons I have racked my brain against:

    1. Man can scoop mud into an oven in under three weeks
    2. When a computer is sent to do a mission, it returns with the data it was sent to get… typically no more, no less. When a man goes, the mission changes in accordance with the needs of humankind.
    3. Hubble images are not beautiful; they are warnings. They are depictions of the violence of the universe, the catastrophic illustrations of what will be. It is like posting car wrecks on your wall and then not wearing a seat belt. We need to learn how to get off this planet, before we suffer the same fate as those in 99% of the Hubble images.
    4. Robots are sent to draw information from the environment in preparation for man’s safe arrival.
    5. In attempting doable, achievable, yet challenging and inspiring endeavors, you feedback technological advances to propel economic growth.

    But it will be difficult to sway the masses. The fact of the matter is that some odd things are assumed in our society. They assume the Shuttle can go to the moon, they assume that NASA builds these vehicles and are shocked to find that most things are subcontracted out, they assume that NASA is the most expensive part of the government and can’t believe it when they see it’s not even on the budget radar.

    The worst part is that people today identify more with Armageddon than with The Right Stuff. Without the actual life experience of the moon landing, how could The Right Stuff compete with Armageddon… who doesn’t love a good Bruce Willis movie regardless of how corny it is? Lord, it was terrible.

    Here is the God awful truth: we need to figure out how to become space faring people now, while we can. Oil is a wonderful thing. Sure, cut out the wars, the greed, the pollution, and you’ve got a pretty special thing. But if we are at peak oil, and indeed if oil is not something that is secreted from extreme environment creatures at the center of the earth, then we are running out of time. We will not have any more breakthroughs without incredible difficulty. We are living on free energy from nature, a gift, and yet if you take a view from space you’ll see our cars buzzing back and forth, vibrating as if for no good reason, wasting this gift. In time, humans can burn all the coal, oil, and switch-grass it likes until we reach a point when we wished we used those resources to build a better solar panel, a better rocket. I’m afraid we may be walking down the path of loosing free energy that used to translate into easier research. And in the end our energy system will fail, and mankind will be anchored to this planet until it falls mercilessly into a faint hue in another being’s Hubble image.

    Your post was well done Mr. O’brien, but we must convince the leaders that it is time to invest in something that may take 10 years again to see the benefits. If we decide to make the investment into an inspiring and solid project, then those great minds will appear again… indeed they are already here… waiting to be led.

  37. Robert Law Says:

    well doun Miles, hear in the UK our useless goverment wont back space flight at all . I fear now that O’Bama is now the prseident there is going to be cut backs in the Space program , we need people like you to bring the message of why the space program is important .



  38. Guillermo Sohnlein Says:

    @squawky You’re absolutely 100% right on! There IS value in all of those “fake” things, and it IS all about balance. Thank you for highlighting that for me.

  39. Guillermo Sohnlein Says:


    I think you make an excellent point when you say, “We need to figure out how to turn our sentiments into come action.” I agree 100%!

    I don’t know if it’s my parents’ work ethic, my Marine Corps background, or my years as an entrepreneur, but I try to never point out a problem unless (a) I can also offer a solution and (b) I am willing to work on the solution. You’re already familiar with my story, but perhaps I could offer my own experiences as some “lessons learned” for anyone else looking to make a difference?

    After we sold our San Francisco-based internet company in mid-2001, I started looking for something to do within the space industry. I thought I should stick with what I knew best, so I focused on launching a new space-related business. However, I discovered that there were way too many gaps in what I now call the “Aerospace Innovation Ecosystem” for me (or many other entrepreneurs) to be successful. Therefore, I decided to do whatever I could to fix those infrastructure problems instead of launching my own venture.


    I started with the entrepreneur community, because I felt that there weren’t enough experienced entrepreneurs looking at opportunities related to space. In 2003, a group of us formed the International Association of Space Entrepreneurs precisely to encourage, assist, and nurture the entry of new entrepreneurs into the space arena. Over the years, it has morphed into an online community (www.spaceentrepreneurs.org) with almost 700 individual members across 45 different countries. We’re working on some new initiatives for 2009, but in the meantime at least we continue to facilitate networking and discussions among a global community of space-focused entrepreneurs.


    The next gap I tried to address derived directly from our work with IASE, namely the lack of early-stage finance for space-related ventures. A group of us considered raising a SpaceVest-like venture fund, but ultimately we decided instead to focus a little further upstream: angel investors. In 2006, we started Space Angels Network (www.spaceangelsnetwork.com), which is currently a national group of individual investors looking for opportunities with space-related ventures. We are still in our own startup phase and hope to conclude our first deal within the next 12 months.

    Even as we continue pushing forward with IASE and Space Angels Network, I still see more gaps that call out for attention. I plan to continue working toward those goals in the coming years.


    So … what are some of the lessons learned? I’ll offer my Top Five:

    (1) Take heed of your call to action, and … ACT!

    I don’t think this needs any explanation beyond quoting Nike: Just Do It.

    (2) Focus on what you know and what you’re good at.

    I just happened to have experience and contacts in the world of entrepreneurship, early stage finance, and new venture creation. Therefore, it was a natural–and therefore easy–transition for me to take action in this way. You could do the same if you’re a parent, teacher, scientist, lawyer, toll booth attendant, or custodial engineer.

    (3) No effort is too small.

    While new venture creation and entrepreneurship certainly play a strategic long-term role in promoting innovation and economic development of an industry, they pale in comparison to what others could do. National governments and international agencies can have a significantly greater impact on our future, and larger well-funded visionary companies (e.g., SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Google, etc.) can likewise give us a great push forward. However, I decided that focusing on a relatively narrow sliver of the solution was better than not taking any action at all, and I would suggest the same for anyone else looking for ways to contribute.

    (4) Don’t get discouraged.

    The challenges we face are large, the issues we are grappling with are complex, and the solutions we seek are long-term. It is VERY easy to get discouraged, to start believing the detractors, and to lose hope. However, we should not give up. Keep yourself going. Find other like-minded individuals who share your vision and passion. Most important, keep telling yourself that there are very few things in life worth doing that require no effort. If it were easy, then it would already be done.

    (5) Collaborate with each other.

    As evidenced by the responses to this post, there are thousands–if not millions–of us out there who feel strongly enough about these issues to turn our sentiments into action. We are each finding our respective best ways to do this, so let’s work together as much as possible!

    Hope this helps,


  40. Ray Gedaly Says:

    Great op-ed and the feedback is excellent too. But I’m afraid in this case we’re the dinosaurs and India and China are the mammels waiting in the wings. I’m not sure if the asteroid will strike, but we’re sure not doing much to try to deflect it.

    Perhaps we accomplished too much too soon! I think it was Howard the Duck who lamentsd, “What do you do the morning after the day you save the world?” (In his case … team with Spielberg to make one of the worst movies ever!).

  41. Guillermo Sohnlein Says:

    BTW … over the years I’ve noticed one other thing: other than perhaps the environmental “movement,” I think that the space community is blessed with a more widespread and passionate base of individual and organized supporters than just about any other field. There are certainly enough of us out there to help make our own future!

  42. Dave Hromanik Says:


    Although you are only four years younger than I, somehow you managed to miss all of the changes America went through since July 20, 1969. I’m not being sarcastic with you, just so you understand, it’s more like a friendly conversation.

    America’s priorities and way of life changed drastically after that historic day. As we entered the Seventies, there was a sense that all of the societal upheaval which defined the Sixties needed to be left behind, and the Space Race had been won. Schools began teaching environmental awareness in science class instead of space science. This budding movement railed against industrial practices and “muscle cars” the SUVs of the age. People began to look inward instead of outward, and the Arab oil embargo and Johnny Carson’s toilet paper shortage ushered in the “era of shortages”, where the sense that America could accomplish anything was replaced by a sense of new limits.
    We celebrated the nation’s bicentennial, and society embraced the “if it feels good, do it” mentality. Disco, cocaine, and Studio 54 became the topics of the time.

    They burned themselves out by the time Reagan took office, and after the economic recession, the “greed is good” mentality took root. We are all affected by the fruits of this mentality today.

    Fast-forward to today…although I consider myself an “ambassador” for space science, what I largely encounter is an “Eff that…how’s my 401K doing?” attitude. Like it or not, a large percentage of Americans have no interest in space, or science, and have no clue as to where their gadgets come from of how they work.

    This election brought talk of “barriers and stereotypes” being breached, but one still remains: an inherant bias against people perceived as being good in the sciences. Terms like “geek”, “dweeb”, and so on are used as freely as ethnic and racial slurs were once used to describe those whose efforts keep society running as well as keeping it moving forward.

    Your recent dismissal by CNN would seem to confirm that the network seeks to charm a demographic that has little to no interest in science. Perhaps the Discovery, History, Learning, National Geographic, or Smithsonian channels will extend an offer to you…those are the only channels worth watching.

    All the best,

  43. Don A. Nelson Says:

    Your Space News article had lots of words but no plan…. There have been lots of words written on what we were and should be..most end with need more money….but money is not the cure all for NASA….NASA must have a feasible and realistic plan for today’s economic environment…NASA must get out of the launch business…NASA must get back to technology development…for that plan see the NASA Technology Program at:

  44. Maquis Says:

    I must say I’m a little afraid of what new administration will do to space program. I really wouldn’t want Ares I to be cancelled in this phase. Not after some major breakthrougs in solving SRB oscillation – plus I have to admit – I like it’s design. “Best of both worlds” if You ask me. Plus I see potential in that rocket for unmanned launches too.

    On the other hand – the Ares V heavy lifter is a bit… shall I say… overwhelming. Yes, it has it’s advantages, but there are severe problems connected to it – and I don’t know how they can be resolved without massive expenses to the infrastructure. So… Ares V – I don’t really see it. I’ll be surprised if we’ll see it being launched the way it is designed now.

    It reminds me of a certain project from Apollo’s past, dating back to the time before EOR/LOR method was selected. I’m of course talking about infameous Nova project. I just hope Ares V wouldn’t end like it – in the shelves or books.

    Perhaps this is the reason for me to like Direct 2.0 design more. I’m not saying it’s ideal – but with some changes it could really be it (like SRB’s from Ares I). And I think it’s the easiest way of getting the job done.

    Well, everything in the hands of new administration.

    Just my three cents.

  45. jimmyc Says:

    Agreed. Squandered our opportunities.

    Words like “waste”, “failure to communicate” are associated with NASA. They need to be fixed.

    Replace “Moon” with “Mars”. Thats what NASA needs to do. Pitch Mars as a destination that is quite risky and will require more innovation and dedicated manpower. How’s that for boosting the economy. Perhaps then NASA can be known for being green in space, dealing with waste on long trips, cleaning water, protecting our astronauts from deadly radiation, developing a propulsion system that runs on Mars materials which can be harvested prior to departure.

    The limelight would fall on the communities and people who helped make it happen, an organization for dreaming big and achieving, and the technology advancement required would re-establish the US as the tech giant we were.

    Ever notice that if you set the bar high enough, you tend to get close no matter the distance? Its time to set the bar higher, just like in the 60’s.

    Who is all in?

  46. Paul Spudis Says:

    The Apollo program was a great moment for the nation and the world, but it is not a template for a sustainable space program. Because it was driven solely by a political imperative, it was expendable after it had accomplished its goal. We need an incremental, cumulative stratgegy that leaves a last spacefaring infrastructure.

    More thoughts about this on my blog, The Once and Future Moon.

  47. Maquis Says:

    Looks like I’ll be a devil’s advocate.

    Perhaps You’re right Jimmy, but going to Mars would mean using hardware that nobody today wants to consider or hardware that just isn’t there yet. And the risk would still be very high.

    I doubt anyone will go to Mars in the next 20 years – well, unless next gen rovers will benefit from some nasty ‘thinking’ AI. Hard to say with AI advancements.

    Moon on the other hand is close. Only I don’t see a lot of reasons for us to go there. In many aspects it’s a lot worse enviroment than Mars or orbit. I guess what I’m trying to do is to raise a question whether we really need to go to the Moon ourselves or not.

    Honestly I’d focus on new propulsion technologies and systems miniaturisation (like MITEE), telepresence and teleoperations.

    Let’s face it – technology evolves much faster than we do. 100 years from now we will still have to face same issues as we face today, but technology after 100 years – I can’t even think what it will be capable of doing on it’s own in 20…

    Let’s go back to 60’s for a brief moment. Computers look like an oversized sofa, the smallest one onboard LEM has less power than modern calculator. The Space Race is driving USA and Soviets for almost 10 years now. Pressure is incredible.

    Comparing that to modern World – almost all the main reasons we went to the Moon 40 years ago are, well… gone or outdated.

    Yes – NASA should think big – it’s the damn purpose it’s there. But I wouldn’t say it means manned exploration of Moon and especially Mars. Not if we can achive same goals for fraction of a cost. And without so many money being pumped into one direction NASA could fund additional flagship missions – I’d really want to see Cassini-style missions to Uranus and Neptune (especially Neptune, because of it’s proximity to KB).

    We can set the bar high, but we should think first if it’s worth it. We made that mistake before with X-33 for instance.

    Just my feelings towards it. NASA can still aim for the stars… we just have to realise that does not necessarily mean manned exploration.

    You can rant at me now 😉

  48. Ray Gedaly Says:

    Funny how the moon seems so much more attractive to us now that other nations desire it.

  49. M Miglin Says:

    As a space nut I also wish for a much more robust space program.

    I just hope we have learned enough from the virtual abandonment of Apollo era technology to not repeat it by walking away from the ISS and the Shuttle. Both were paid for at a very high price in both dollars and lives and while neither are perfect (just like Apollo and Saturn), both work and offer unequaled capability and access to space(just like Shuttle and ISS).

    IMHO worst part left behind from Apollo was Saturn I and Saturn V. Hopefully, Ares V will get built. Ares I, even at this point, could probably be replaced by Delta/Atlas at less money.

  50. cnnfan Says:

    As a professional computer programmer I know by maintaining legacy source code and systems for a living, that many old technologies were works of genius and remain so, regardless of how long ago they were first made. Often they can not be replaced with today’s technology, which puts them in danger of becoming a lost art.

  51. Brett Says:

    “Abandon in Place”

    I took a picture of the concrete stand where the Apollo 1 fire took place a few years ago, and it had those words stenciled on it. Seemed very fitting at the time.

    I was taking pretty much the same tour, with my 15 y/o stepdaughter, that I had taken some 25 years before with my parents. By the time we got to the Apollo 1 site I was, for the lack of a better term, angry.

    A sunny summer day in Florida, touring the space center with my new wife and stepdaughter, and I’m angry? How could that be?

    I was angry because there was =nothing= new. In the 25 years since I was there the last time we had done =nothing= with our space program. It finally hit me what the problem was when I saw that “Abandon in Place” stencil.

    Abandon in Place is exactly what we did. We had it all. We had the means, we had the equipment, we had the people, we had the facilities … and we pissed it all away.

    A live, flight ready Saturn V slowly turns to so much scrap metal roasting in the Florida sun.

    A live, flight ready Skylab backup sits in a museum in Washington, DC., anchored to the earth forever.

    We shouldn’t be speculating about “life on Mars”, we could have BEEN THERE by now and know the answer.

    You think the pictures/findings from Hubble are amazing? What would we see from a ground based telescope … on the moon?

    If they had someplace to go, something to aspire to as they did in the 60’s … would our middle/high school students still be dead last in math/science in the industrial world?

    Abandon in Place.

  52. Brian in Las Vegas Says:

    It’s a great read, Miles. Thanks for writing/presenting it. Can’t wait for your audio/video interviews of NASA scientists and astronauts to come out on your PODCAST (and vidcast). Just sayin’.

  53. cm Says:

    Rovers, robots and telepresence, while they may have a part in space exploration, are completely UN-inspirational to me.

    I wanted to go to the moon and to wherever beyond, because my Dad explained (to his 4 yr. old) the very large, scary rocket we were watching on TV, was taking American men to the moon.

  54. Jim Rohrich Says:

    Well done Mr. O’Brien. Very good, and timely, article.

    I agree with Mr. Spudis’s comments about Apollo. A unique set of circumstances set Apollo up… and we’re unlikely to see that set again.

    I believe NASA should leave space activities to LEO to private business, right now. NASA should push the technology needed to make work and fun on the Moon routine… and then move that endeavor to private business.

    A couple of caveats. I do not believe international cooperation makes any project cheaper and/or quicker to complete. So, I’m fine with the United States doing space by herself. Also, we need to have faster timelines on getting space projects done. If it’s a total U.S. gov’t effort in space, 10 – 15 years to complete a project is not going to work.

  55. Maquis Says:

    CM, are we really going there to explore, or simply because we want to satisfy our ego?

  56. Mike Nottle Says:

    Y’all keep blathering on about how NASA isn’t doing this or could be doing that in order to regain the glory of the Apollo era.

    If you want a dose of reality, go read what Spudis had to say at


    During the magical Apollo era, NASA had a leading role in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. Although NASA played its part magnificiently, once Neil took his small step, NASA was no longer important in the geo-political struggle. It became just another government agency – albeit one with a pretty cool mission.

    No amount of PR, tech briefs, spinoffs, or other types of public outreach will bring back the glory days. Acceptance of reality is the first step to building the type of long term, sustainable space program the Nation deserves.

  57. Michael Steeves Says:

    I’m one of the ones who grew up listening to Apollo landings on the radio (didn’t have TV in Kenya!) and dreaming of being an astronaut.

    I think the biggest problem is the militant individualism of American society. Our personal happiness/pleasure takes precedence over common goals.

    Society is changing. We are losing sense of community and of working together for things that are good for all of us. NASA is just one symptom.

    I just have some hopes for the proposed administrator of NASA — an alumni of my school with some sense of how community still works in parts of the world. His low-level overflights of the school in an F-5 were one of the things that gave me an interest in aviation.

  58. Michael Mealling Says:

    Great article, Miles. This theme comes up whenever there is a changing of the guard. It was discussed after Columbia and has come up again now that we have a new Administration. While I agree that America seems to have lost some of its “get up and go”, I don’t agree that Apollo is a model we should be looking to for anything other than inspiration about what is possible.

    Paul Spudis’ article he mentions above:

    Rand’s additional comments:

    And even a version I wrote in 2003 after Columbia:

    outline how Apollo makes a great myth to inspire, but we really should leave it at that. Before NASA took over and the mission became “move as fast as possible to this one goal” there was a thriving aerospace plane X program producing scalable results. There was a stepwise approach that extended what we were doing sustainable and economically.

    Action items for me would be for the “space community” to become very vocal about creating a profitable industry (not jobs, an _industry_) as a way of revitalizing and growing America in general. Instead of a Kennedy-esque “put a man on Mars by 2020” say something like “have 10% of the US GDP produced off-world by 2020”.

    Let’s use Apollo for what it is, a good story that can inspire us, not an actual model for how we build something better.

  59. Homer Hickam Says:

    Well said, Miles. You are a true Rocket Boy. To be a great nation, a nation has to do great things. We did them once in space and we should do them again. In fact, I believe our future depends on it. The present hesitation is reflective of the doubts within our government whether greatness is worth the effort. It’s sad but fixable. Elections matter.

    Keep aiming high (but don’t blow yourself up)!


  60. Matt Bille Says:

    I know this problem needs to be addressed with much more than words, but words are where all human endeavors begin, so I offer two additions to Miles’ excellent piece.

    The “Abandon in Place” signage mentioned above was the inspiration for a very moving poem of the same name by Ray Bradbury. (The Complete Poems of Ray Bradbury, Ballantine, 1982). It and its eloquent companion piece, “They Have Not Seen the Stars,” should be sent to everyone in the government with decision-making authority for space.

    Finally, Arthur C. Clarke was once asked what development in the 20th century he never would have predicted. He replied, “That we would have gone to the moon and stopped.”

    Regards, Matt Bille
    Space analyst/writer/historian

  61. Keith Vauquelin Says:

    I feel like I am standing in the presence of giants, and thank you for the opportunity to weigh in with my opinions and thoughts.

    I recently posted the following on http://www.nasawatch.com, in response to an article published in “The Economist”, and as a follow-up to push back from another reader:

    “To Mark, who has corrected my apparent ignorance about history regarding Great Britain:

    I understand your points; a greater investigation of World War II history is apparently in order, by myself, and many historians on this side of the Pond.

    Nevertheless, which country made the voyage successfully to Luna (including the near-disaster of Apollo 13) nine times, and which didn’t?

    The fact remains, regardless of the catalyst, that when societies discontinue exploration, without fail, they move backwards in every measure (educationally, economically, politically, militarily), and NEVER recover the greatness which EXPLORATION of the unknown rewards the participants.

    The United States is on the threshold of the same. Those of us, including yourself, who support manned space exploration must speak up, for the watershed of abandoning meaningful and assertive exploration, will push this nation backwards for 1,000 years, if not destroy it altogether.

    IMHO, when the United States of America falls, the clock on the 1000 years of darkness I predict starts ticking. If you believe despotism is bad now on a global scale, JUST WAIT until there is no great power which in some form or fashion advocates, encourages, and supports:

    1) Free enterprise
    2) Exploration of the unknown (1 & 2 go hand-in-hand with each other)
    3) Free choice to achieve any measure of personal success an individual desires
    4) A solid work ethic

    THIS IS THE SANGUINE POINT that our society and government leadership is missing – when there is no challenge to push back the frontiers of knowledge, through exploration, societies and civilizations stagnate at best, and die at worst.

    Mark my words – history is a great teacher, and those who fail to learn from the mistakes, and pay attention to the lessons our ancestors had to learn the hard way, are irrevocably doomed to repeat them.

    No amount of rationalization, education, blogging, or pontification will render this basic, common-sense fact of existence invalid. The rule is built into the structure of this universe, whether we like it or not.

    Frankly, and bluntly, it is past time for our society to get off its dead ass, and do the right thing by ourselves, our families, and our civilization.

    Speak up and out, America. Your time is running out.”

  62. Ray Gedaly Says:

    We can grieve all we want about our nation losing it’s way; I’m just glad there are others to take up the slack.

    Remember the plaque reads “FOR ALL MANKIND!”

  63. Charles Boyer Says:


    When you said that “history is a great teacher, and those who fail to learn from the mistakes, and pay attention to the lessons our ancestors had to learn the hard way, are irrevocably doomed to repeat them” you were 100% correct.

    That, however, is not the real problem here.

    The real problem is NASA’s inability to articulate the benefits that we have received from the first Space Race, and that it was not a mere publicity stunt to prove our technological superiority to the Soviet Union.

    I don’t know how many times I have heard the phrase “flag and footprints” to describe Apollo’s moon landings. That phrase even seems to be the order of the day from modern scientists, such as the respected Dr. Phil Plait, who once worked for NASA and is now an advocate for space science and science education in general.

    The idea that all Apollo accomplished was landing on the moon and planting a flag, not to mention collecting some regolith and a few rocks along the way is so wrong it is simply laughable. I have heard lunar geologists remark that “75% of what we know about the moon was learned in the contingency sample Neil Armstrong collected.” That’s a simple truth. Apollo pretty much settled the origins of our planet’s satellite and it also went far to tell us the true age of our solar system as well as a great deal of how it was formed. Those advancements are Nobel-prize worthy, save for the fact that it was a government-funded effort that was borne of incredible collaboration.

    Furthermore, the later Apollo missions were focusing more and more on science and exploration, and the cancelled missions — Apollos 18, 19 and 20 — would have dwarfed the work that Apollos 16 and 17 completed.

    That does not mean that Apollos 11, 12, 14 and 15 should be overlooked. They did great work of their own, just not as much as we would have liked because quite frankly we were still learning the operational aspects of voyaging to the moon and returning safely. Mr. Kranz, who I was very pleased to comment above can attest to that aspect with far more authority than can I, but I assure you that the success of Apollo 11 never made a lunar voyage “routine” and that the earlier moon landings had limitations placed upon them because of their occurrence on the leading edge of the learning curve. Apollos 18-20 would not have had that.

    Secondly, and nearly as importantly, the side-benefits to Apollo and its preceding programs is incalculable. Apollo created, catalyzed or sped a great deal of technology development that was later commercialized and thus taxed and money returned to the government. The Charles Draper/MIT Apollo Guidance System, for example, boosted the nascent integrated circuit industry and consumed over 60% of the world’s supply at one point. New chip fabrication technologies were created to supply the AGC project’s demand and thus led to economies of scale in that business such that small companies like Intel were founded in the late 1960’s. I think we can skip the part about what Intel did to further develop the tech that Apollo created and then what that led to, as everyone who is reading this can attest to that. Sure, some claim that defense uses for ICs may have led to the same result, but ask yourself, how long would it have taken for the technology to be de-classified and commercialized? Years? Decades? Apollo, as a civilian program, did not have that constraint.

    That’s one for example. There are literally thousands of others, many major, some minor, all important, that are the legacy of Apollo. But do we hear of this very often from NASA? No. Do Americans generally know what their investment forty years ago bought them? No again. Do our current legislators, the men and women who will make the decisions for current programs? I very much doubt it.

    Now ask yourself: how can our Congress, our President and the American public make the best decision without all of the critical information to make that decision? They cannot.

    And there, my friends, is where NASA has failed and needs to improve.

    It works hard for outreach, and I will not denigrate the hard work that the people within NASA’s outreach and history departments do. There are simply not enough of them, they do not seem to have the right focus, and they are letting the memories in the minds that worked for NASA and its contractors fade away as these people age and pass away.

    Tell the people the whole story, NASA, and they will come around.

  64. Charles Boyer Says:

    I would like to add one final thing:

    You will never in your lifetime ever see a superior example of an engineering project than the one led by the ones who worked across NASA during the mission of Apollo 13. It was one for the ages.

    Imagine, if you will, the pressure and the urgency that these men and women operated under, using limited tools and materiale. On the fly, without sleep and heavy with worry, they saved a crippled spacecraft and brought three men home safely the earth. They did this literally with duct tape, spare parts and the braun of their brains.

    Messrs. Lovell, Swigert and Hayes certainly did their part, but men like Gene Kranz are every bit the hero as any astronaut who ever stepped into a spacecraft. They may deny it, they may say that they were just doing their jobs, but these folks did what could not be done when it *had* to be done, and as a result, avoided a national tragedy.

    They are *what* America is all about.

  65. tomahawkgod Says:

    I occupy a unique position. I grew up in Titusville, during Apollo. I watched 11-17 live, from either the banks of the Indian River or from the front lawn of our house. Dad wasn’t there alot, as he was, up until OCT ’69, out at the Cape, doing his part for Apollo.

    Then, surprise surprise, they pulled off a miracle and landed 2 men on the moon and got them back safely, on equipment built by the lowest bidder. An engineering feat NEVER equaled since. And the reward for all the government and contractors? Most of them, like my dad, got laid off.

    I still vehemently support man in space, just not NASA. NASA has screwed the pooch. If the early days of Aviation had been handled like Space was by NASA, we would STILL be waiting to have commercial and private aviation and still wouldn’t have passed mach one.

    A good many of the guys like my dad went through a lot, giving EVERYTHING they had to the program. And they got crapped on. No memorial, and the only thank you was a pink slip. Yeah, Gene did a lot, and he got recognition that was well deserved. And yeah, the astronauts got their due. But nothing for the guys who made sure that the air and power worked on the craft.

    I spent 23 years in the Navy, and the vets of the Cold War got more recognition than the Apollo vets. I’m pretty bitter about that; not for me, but for my dad, who’s 71 now. He took part in the greatest achievement in man’s history, and most people don’t know what that was and don’t seem to care.

    I’m also kind of bitter because of the lack of recognition for the families of the guys at the Cape and all the other places. NOTHING was ever done for them. Again, the military spouses get more recognition, even though the price that the Apollo vets paid. Let’s face it, Brevard County FLA during Apollo had the highest divorce rate, alcoholism rate and suicide rate of anyplace in the country.

    Just to recap the scope of what happened. In 1960 the USA could not reliably and consistantly launch ANY booster. Success was much rarer than failure. We could not consistantly achieve orbital insertion.
    There was no VAB, no Complex 39A or B, no LUTs, no Crawlers, no Mercury, No Gemini. We did not KNOW whether or not it was actually possible to get a craft with people to the moon, much less get it back, and the people alive.

    By July 1969 – less than ten years, we had sent three people to the moon and brought them back alive. To do so we had to:
    > build the largest building in the world (in the middle of a swamp),
    > design and build the strongest roadbed in the world (in the middle of a swamp),
    > had to design and build a fleet of ships to fill in communications gaps (which had to be determined),
    > design and build the worlds largest tractors,
    > design and build three seperate rocket programs,
    > design an astronaut training program,
    > Select and train a slew of astronauts (which had never been done before)
    > rapidily and massively move forward metalurgy, chemistry, physics computer science, life science, engineering, and a host of other disciplines in order to be able to create the rockets and associated systems to pull it all off.

    And to be honest, if we hadn’t screwed up some and had taken more risks, we could have gone to the moon in ’67.

    A good site to just review from time to time

  66. Keith Vauquelin Says:

    To Charles Boyer:

    I enjoyed your response, and am in 100% agreement with your points – I wish I had the skill sets and more of the knowledge base you have pulled your facts from. I have read a great deal about the points you make.

    The point that keeps resurfacing in this conversation and others, is that mankind must push the boundary of the frontier outward, in order to survive and thrive. Space flight is merely the necessary tool to continue the outward expansion of our civilization.

    The spinoffs of this effort must never be underestimated; our entire technologically-based society is a result of the early investment in R & D, which led to systems and materials that NASA has used to achieve the successes (and failures) of its history.

    At the end of the day, it is clear to me that the contributors herein have a great passion for exploration; a love for the United States of America; and a desire to see us return to the basic fundamentals which built a nation unlike any to ever exist on this planet. The only way that will happen, again, is if we demand excellence from our national leadership and ourselves, set uncommon and difficult goals for us to aspire to, and put industry and hard work ahead of profit.

    These are the fundamentals that men like Gene Krantz and Jim Lovell demonstrated in spades, that are worth aspiring to, and are absolutely necessary to have a growing and healthy society, born of exploration success and failure.

    A serious work-ethic and willingness to take risk both act as catalysts to success, and lead to exploration. Society benefits when a positive work-ethic is demanded of its membership. This is the basic and irrefutable equation of our existence.

    Thank you for responding to my remarks – I occasionally feel like a single voice in the wilderness about these issues, but it is comforting and encouraging to know there are a great multitude of us our here who still believe in what America is all about. We have to stand our ground on these issues.

  67. Tim King Says:

    Miles–Sorry to see you on the sidelines right now. There are too many of us electronic journalists who have been parked in this orbit recently (I’ve been here three days longer than you so far). Here’s hoping we all find our way to something better.

    “This is not a nation built by people who wished to stop and rest and look behind them. This is s nation of dreamers and doers.” — JFK

    The moon rises every night behind my home and right into the approach pattern for runway 32 at PIT. For a couple of minutes every full moon it appears that the man in the moon is staring down at the line of jetliners and biz jets swooping in below and laughs. Laughs that the humans can’t get any closer, laughs that it appears too many of the humans don’t want to get any closer. If he could speak he might be quoted as saying “You once dared to visit me, explore me, orbit me. What happened to your courage??”

    We The People were convinced by ourselves and our leaders that we had won the space race when in fact all we had done is lead the first lap of the race. We were told that space wasn’t as important as what was going on back on Earth so we stood by mute while NASA’s budget was slashed to the point of being on par with the Pentagon’s office supply budget. Since we weren’t going to the moon we didn’t need to teach our kids math and science either. Afterall, the could make more money on Wall Street.

    Man last walked on the Moon when I was 13 years old. Today I turn 50 and wonder about all of the opportunities lost in the last 37 years. I fear the achievements we’ve left on the table undone would truly shock the world. I also believe that if people like us don’t start making sure that our elected representatives hear us and heed us that it might be another 37 years before Gene Cernan loses his title of last man on the Moon. If our leaders don’t want to lead us in this direction, perhaps people like us need to push them harder.

  68. Mike Says:

    …and be very careful using the word “impossible.”


  69. Jorge Says:

    Hi Miles,
    NASA’s current budget of 18 billion dollars is a disgrace. I’d like to propose that the business sector (financial and industrial) help increase NASA’s budget through investments, resources, etc. Banks pay hundreds of millions of dollars to put their name on an arena, imagine if they can be the first to have an office on the moon by 2020. America can regain its lead in space exploration.

    One other thing. I read that Japan is gearing up to build a space elevator. I believe with the statement that the country that discovers a cheaper way to get into space will control space.

    Thank you

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