Ask someone on the street right now if they know that NASA is planning to return to the Moon by 2020. Go ahead, ask someone. NASA is not going to the Moon in 2020.
Not because IT doesn't want to.
Because nobody knows why WE want to go.
NASA is the American people's space program. If we collectively want to send people back to the Moon, we'll do it. The problem is that we don't really want to right now. We like the idea of fitting it in, but petty politics, our fat bellies, and poor economy come first. Like it or not, this is where the American people are right now.
When we went to the Moon in 1969 it was the pinnacle of modern engineering and exploration. Amazing in almost every way imaginable.
Almost immediately, public support waned. Can you blame the public? Let's look at it from the average American's point of view:
We started out saying "we're going to the moon, before 1970."
So we invented things we didn't think were possible, built amazing machines that redefined what machines could even do, and found the bravest and smartest amongst us and sent them. We did everything we said we were going to do.
As a group, we didn't decide to do anything after that.
Some people thought that beating the Russians was the whole point. Some people had this idea for a space station that would be the starting point for colonizing the solar system. Some people wanted reusable spacecraft. Some people wanted robotic probes to be sent everywhere. Some people wanted to scrap the whole thing and feed all the starving children in the world.
So that's what we did. A little of everything, but not enough of anything.
We made a "Space Shuttle". Well we sort of made one. We really made a "reusable" spacecraft that is way too expensive and almost entirely NOT reusable. It is under-capable and suffers from heat shield tile problems that were evident on it's first launch almost 30 years ago. And calling it a "Shuttle" is funny. Who are we kidding?
We're still building a space station that is an interesting place to do some science, but is really just there because we needed something for our Space Shuttle to have a something to do. It's not a stepping stone to anything. It's been a dead end from the start.
Most high school science students can figure out that we could accomplish what both systems actually provide us: an orbiting science outpost and a way to build it, for a small fraction of the complexity and cost.
We did get a lot of the robotics stuff right. No one can argue about how successful those two Mars rovers have been, and many of the probes we send out perform splendidly. The Hubble telescope is amazing too. Sure it had a flaw, but it was a daring project, and pushing the limits of what's possible sometimes means we make a telescope that needs glasses. The people who did the mission to fix it and the people who were brave enough to admit it was worth fixing were amazing.
So here we are. Budgets are already getting cut for the 2020 return to the moon. You shouldn't be surprised. The American people don't want to go. They don't know why they should want to go.
The solution is very difficult but not at all impossible. There is a generation of people, now retiring from the workforce that did exactly what we need to do now. They can help us:
We need all of the 10 year olds in America to want to become Astronauts. We do this by giving them a spirit of exploration. We promise to create things we think are impossible, build amazing machines that redefine what a machine can even do, and find the bravest and smartest amongst us to go because it so important that we absolutely must be the best and send our best.