Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bolden's Got the Job, But Can He DO It?

Former astronaut and retired Marine General Charles Bolden confirmed as the new head of NASA.
Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday as the twelfth administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Lori Beth Garver was confirmed as NASA's deputy administrator.

As administrator, Bolden will lead the NASA team and manage its resources to advance the agency's missions and goals.

His resume is impressive, and his statement in response to his confirmation has some good bits in it:
If we choose to lead, we must build on our investment in the International Space Station, accelerate development of our next generation launch systems to enable expansion of human exploration, enhance NASA's capability to study Earth's environment, lead space science to new achievements, continue cutting-edge aeronautics research, support the innovation of American entrepreneurs, and inspire a rising generation of boys and girls to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The "If" at the beginning bothers me, however. There should be no "If." Kennedy didn't come out at Rice University in 1961 and say, "If we choose to go to the Moon. . ." He said, quite simply, "We choose to go to the Moon. . ." There can be no question about America's leadership in space. The US must remain the leader in space, if we as a nation are going to remain relevant on the global stage in the coming decades.

China will soon overtake the US as the largest economy in the world, which means that global attention (and respect) will be focused on them, and the US will be as much of a forgotten afterthought as the USSR is now, unless we hold the edge in technology. We can only do that if we are pushing the boundaries of space back as far as possible. We don't need to simply keep sending astronauts up to the ISS, we must push for a return to the Moon, while simultaneously preparing to set foot on Mars. Bolden needs to come up with a clear, concrete and aggressive vision for NASA soon, and then he must make the hard sell to Congress so that it gets done.

I hope that Bolden puts forth such a vision soon, the longer he delays, the harder it is going to be to convince Congress that this is what must be done. The most dangerous days for NASA will be during the interregnum period after the last shuttle mission, and before the launch of the Orion (if it is ever done). The New Inquisitors will be working hardest during that period of time, to crush the manned NASA program (if not all of NASA). Bolden's actions will determine if they will win or not. Audacity is what is called for, not meekly accepting whatever Congress chooses to throw in his direction. If need be, he should look at selling the shuttles to a private corporation, willing to launch them for commercial ventures of one kind or another (space tourism, building a private hotel in space, etc.) from their own facilities. The more dynamic Bolden is, the more exciting his ideas, the more inspiring they will be to the general public, and the less likely it is that NASA will wind up getting axed.

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