Time To End Apollo Redux

Over at Cosmic Log, the blog of MSNBC science correspondent Alan Boyle, there is an interview with me based on a phone conversation I had with him yesterday, and an hour-long discussion last night in Second Life and on Blog Talk Radio. The podcast for the latter went up shortly after, for those who would like to listen:

Simberg still believes the Apollo moon landings were “a historic achievement” from a technological and even spiritual perspective. It’s just not the way to run a sustainable space program.

“I tend to think of Apollo as not having much to do with space in terms of opening it up” as a frontier, he told me.

Is the space frontier even worth opening up? Simberg said policymakers see the space program as more of a jobs program. “The reason space policy is a mess is because it’s really not ‘important’ … to the people who make the decisions about it,” he said.

Although Simberg shies away from being pigeonholed as a Republican or a conservative, he’s in favor of free-market, small-government solutions. That means he often finds himself in the camp opposing Obama — except when it comes to space policy. He’s strongly in favor of the Obama administration’s push to commercialize spaceflight to low Earth orbit.

…In Simberg’s view, the worst thing about Obama’s space policy is that Obama is behind it. “It’s just very unfortunate that it’s this administration that managed to come up with this one enlightened policy,” Simberg said. “The biggest political challenge is trying to make sure that if/when the Republicans take over … they don’t have a kneejerk reaction to everything that came out of the White House.”

In the Second-Life discussion, we talked about how the success of Apollo set us up for failure for the decades afterward, by creating false expectations and a flawed government-program paradigm of how to do human spaceflight, the risk aversion (as I discussed here earlier this week) that arises from a combination of the both the timorous times in which we seem to live and the relative unimportance of space (which allows space pork to thrive), and the need for competition and markets to drive down cost and provide resiliency.

Meanwhile, Rick Tumlinson, of the Space Frontier Foundation and Texas Space Alliance, writes that we are at a critical decision point in space policy, and that it is time to end the Senate Launch System, despite desperate reality avoidance by its few defenders. Not only is it a rocket to nowhere, but we simply can no longer afford it, if we ever could. In any rational budget-cutting exercise at the space agency, it would be the first thing to go.