Emma is one of my regular guest bloggers. I feel really thrilled about the possibility to post one educating post of this great blogger once a month over the next couple of months. Thank you so much, Emma, for sharing these great posts with us! If you would like to check out the previous guest posts, this amazing blogger wrote for me, head over here.
NASA was established by a president of the United States—Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958. NASA has long been pushed along by both George W. Bush and the current president of the United States, Barrack Obama. And John F. Kennedy was one of the most famous presidential advocates for the space race, back in 1961. Because NASA is a publicly funded program that thrives on both public and government support, it has to continually adjust its goals to match public opinion and presidential aims.
In 1958, President Eisenhower established NASA with the plan to sketch out a slow and steady approach to get humans into space. Humans would first be sent into low-Earth orbit, and then a space station would be built. Later humans would feature out to the moon, and eventually to nearby planets, sometime after 1970.
But President Eisenhower had bigger problems to worry about than getting astronauts to the moon. So the duty fell to President Kennedy in 1961. Kennedy was one of our strongest advocates for the space race. Many may remember his famous lines, repeated in a documentary on the Apollo missions: “We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.” Just eight years later, Apollo 11 landed three American astronauts on the moon. NASA quickly set its next goal: to launch humans to Mars by 1981.
But again, politics kicked in. Most Americans felt as if we had already won the space race, and we didn’t need to keep having an expensive, fast-paced space program. And thus, NASA’s funding nose-dived. Its ambition to reach the Red Planet slipped out of reach.
Along came George H. W. Bush. He tried to rekindle the dream on the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing with his proposal to send humans back to the moon and on to Mars. But Bush’s proposal fell a little short: he never sent a budget to Congress to fund the plan. His son, President George W. Bush, revived his father’s vision in 2004 when he unveiled his plan for human space exploration: The Constellation Program, which would entail a spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, then to the moon by 2020 and on to Mars. It seemed the dream of space travel had once again caught fire.
In 2009, President Barrack Obama took office and enlisted a group of experts to review Constellation’s progress. The Augustine Committee found that Constellation was over budget and behind schedule. Thinking it unwise to plunge the United States even further into debt, Obama wisely canceled the program. But he came up with a new idea: Send humans to an asteroid by 2025, and to Mars by the mid-2030s. The next step was to pick an asteroid.
NASA’s asteroid mission is its latest mission. The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is a plan to grab a near-Earth asteroid, using either a giant inflatable bag or a claw, and tug it into orbit around the moon. Essentially, our satellite will be given its own satellite. The asteroid’s orbit around the moon will keep it close enough to study, and astronauts will be sent to explore its surface. NASA, working within the tough constraints of Obama’s plan and public approval, says that ARM is the next step to getting humans to Mars. Critics have pounced, stating that there’s nothing about pushing around a tiny space rock that has anything to do with getting humans to the moon or Mars, but NASA has been quick to revise its statements. It reminds us that capturing an asteroid will result in major technological advances that will be necessary in order to put humans on Mars. Additionally, humans haven’t spacewalked on a planetary body since the Apollo missions, so let’s face it, they need the practice. And we can’t forget that NASA needs all the missions it can get. With little to none of the necessary public support, and a shifting and changing presidency that is continually revising its goals for space exploration, NASA is left to grasp at straws.
So let’s give NASA a little break, shall we? I mean, seriously, wouldn’t it be cool to buy our moon its own satellite for its birthday? Now that’s an astronomical accomplishment, and it sounds like fun, too.