It is time to bring NASA back down to Earth

July 20, 2007

enator Ron Wyden
223 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3703

Rep. David Wu
2338 Rayburn HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515

Subject: It is time to bring NASA back down to Earth

On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy issued his famous challenge to Americans, "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."  On January 14, 2004 President George W. Bush announced a plan "to return to the moon by 2020" and then on to Mars some unspecified time beyond that. 

While Kennedy's challenge, in light of Sputnik and the perceived technological superiority of the Soviet Union, was a call to the most pressing conceivable threat to America's long term security at that time, Bush's request carried no such weight.  Where Kennedy's goal galvanized a nation and focused its efforts, Bush's quest has been rarely invoked in speeches and is not on the radar screen even in presidential debates. 

Recently NASA's management and mission were criticized by Gregg Easterbrook  ('How NASA screwed Up" in Wired June, 2007, (   NASA administrator Michael Griffin responded on NPR's Morning Edition, May 31, 2007 (   Mr. Griffin's responses were remarkable not only for their failure to adequately address the issues raised by Mr. Easterbrook, but for a rather startling view on the appropriate response to global warming:

"I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."

Perhaps it is true that if Earth becomes more Mars-like it will make it easier for us to adapt to conditions there, but I would like to suggest another strategy.  Many, Al Gore chief among them (, would argue that global warming is this generation’s most pressing long term issue.  An issue that demands the world bring its brightest minds to bear to meet the challenge.  Many of those minds today work at NASA.  Some of them even work on solar arrays, fuel cells, water purification and many other relevant science and technology areas.  Let's refocus NASA to spend its multi-billion dollar budget on "Mission Earth" by suspending our manned efforts at the end of the Shuttle program. 

Mother Nature is telling us, "You have to clean up your room before you can go outside to play."  Let's heed her call.




Marc Auerbach