Anti-NASAoids say Thursday's resignations of three top scientists from the NASA Advisory Committee is part of a research-vs-PR budget fight within the space agency. Two were asked to leave by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, and the third, Scripps Institution oceanographer Charles F. Kennel, quit voluntarily. Kennel has been gently critical of NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon, and Planetary Society president Wesley Huntress has attacked cuts in the space agency's research budgets. Meanwhile, Rice University astronomer Eugene H. Levy, in his Funnyman Bobby Bitman persona, says the three scientists' vision of a broad science program "didn't comport with the kind of advice that the administrator and the chairman of the committee were looking for." Says AP:
NASA has come under fire in the past year for limiting growth in its science budget to 1.5 percent next year and 1 percent each year through the end of the decade. The limits should help the agency pay to finish the international space station and prepare sending astronauts back to the moon.
Budget fights are what they are, but I have to side with the three scientists. Could anything be more pointless than Project Orion, which will send a four-person capsule back to the moon? That's a feat somewhat like demonstrating that by using a Telex machine you can send a document across town in only a half-hour. Hasn't NASA been paying attention to the great astrophysicist Michael Stipe, who discovered that there's nothing up there to see? Project Orion (not to be confused with the famous speculative fusion rocket project of the same name) doesn't even seem to envision putting Martin Landau on a permanent moon base. It's just another stunt to impress the same gang of politicians who turn around and kick the agency every time it takes a step in the right direction.
I should say I differ from other far-out space nuts and NASA critics, who tend to blame the space agency for holding up manned space exploration. On the contrary, I think NASA ought to get out of manned space travel entirely, leaving that to the Russians, the space tourism people, and anybody else who can either make a viable move to the next level or (more likely) die trying. The advantages of manned rather than robot exploration are so marginal, and NASA's successes in the latter area so impressive (by the way, congratulations, Voyager 1, which is now 9.3 billion miles from the sun and a few years from taking the music of Chuck Berry into interstellar space), that it seems to me to be no contest. Why haven't we sent a drill probe to do some sub-surface ocean fishing on Europa? Where's the robot that will make contact with the farting balloon creatures on Jupiter? (And why doesn't NASA seem to have a compilation CD of the music of Voyager—the original World Music collection?) We just don't need people up there getting massive doses of radiation to study flame balls in 0g.
[Libertoid boilerplate: Of course, doing scientific research with taxpayer funds is worse than the Holocaust, all NASA administrators should be tried for crimes against humanity, etc etc.]