NASA plans permanent moon camp

My first decidedly unromantic response to this story, which describes NASA's plans to permanently staff an "international base camp on one of the moon's poles" was: We've got a ten gazillion dollar deficit; perhaps this can wait. But that felt like too much of a grumpy pooh-pooh even for me, particularly since I'm usually such a sci-nerd, so I headed on over to visit My Favorite Physicist, Sean Carroll, at Cosmic Variance, to see what he had to say. Turns out, he's not much more excited than I am.

It's frustrating to be so lukewarm about the Great Human Adventure in Space, about which I'd much prefer to be enthusiastic. But nothing about the operation inspires confidence, much less wonder. NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale described the program in this tired bit of management-speak:
"This strategy will enable interested nations to leverage their capabilities and financial and technical contributions, making optimum use of globally available knowledge and resources to help energize a coordinated effort that will propel us into this new age of discovery and exploration."
Do people really talk like that? It sounds straight out of Dilbert. Complete with numbingly bullet-pointed Powerpoint presentation!
Maybe the concerns are misplaced, and NASA will be able to aggressively pursue human exploration of space without sacrificing their unique contributions to cutting-edge astrophysics. But I'd be just as happy to let NASA concentrate on the science at which they excel, and leave the space-cowboy stuff to the X-prize folks.
Maybe we're both just cantankerous curmudgeons, but I think he's got a point. (Especially when he also notes that "Nobody knows how much it will actually cost.") It seems like an inevitably vast expenditure for something that NASA's own Deputy Administrator can't make sound more exciting than a new mini-mall in Scranton -- probably because it won't provide a dissimilar opportunity to, oh I don't know, say, Halliburton or Bechtel that a mini-mall would to Subway and The Gap.

Oh, so cynical, I know, I know. But the ability of "interested nations" to participate puts me in mind of the order signed by Bush in October to assert America's right to limit other nations' access to space. Bush, of course, won't be president during most of the project, but the possibility that it could be someone with equally entrenched interests in funneling profits to favored corporations and labeling nations part of an axis of evil makes the whole endeavor seem a wee bit iffy. I've got to second leaving the the space-cowboy stuff to the X-prize folks.

Not that NASA's listening...

(Cosmic Variance)

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