Space missions should accomplish more for the money

Jim Lee

I’m confused again. It seems the older I get the easier that happens.
This time it’s really getting me spaced out. Well, I suppose I should simply say what’s on my beleaguered mind. OK, here it comes.
I don’t understand why we risk the lives of astronauts just to make them ride circles around the planet and come back down in a glorified glider. NASA calls it a shuttle, but doesn’t a “shuttle” by definition take people to a specified place and bring them back?
Where’s the destination for a space “shuttle?” They don’t go anywhere but up. Then they come back down. I can accomplish that much by driving to Cloudcroft (the higher elevation means “up,” right?), drive around the town without stopping and come back.
Does that make me a shuttle astronaut? Maybe not — because I don’t spend the equivalent of the Ugandan gross national product to do it.
A space mission should accomplish something more than blow taxpayer money. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. Well, maybe it does, but that’s a different issue.
Astronauts used to be explorers, each group a team like Lewis and Clark. It was cool to watch people dance around on the moon and pick up intergalactic arrowheads. Where’s the excitement now? All we do is plug leaks in a worn-out Russian space station and gloat about the view.
Let’s go to Mars. We have the technology. The only significant obstacle is money.
How much have the industrialized nations spent on pointless wars since the Apollo missions? Wouldn’t that add up to enough money to bankroll the trip?
I think international cooperation for a Martian mission makes more sense than bumping off each other like piranhas in a fish hatchery.
Let’s make the politicians read books like The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin and Richard Wagner (New York: Touchstone, 1996).
If I can understand most of that book and see how Martian exploration makes sense, so can those people smart enough to run the world. What I know about astrophysics can fit into a Hobbit’s thimble with enough room left over for a ’53 Packard.
But I do understand we can apply what we have learned from other exploration.
Instead of taking all our supplies, use what we find on Mars. As thin as the atmosphere is, it does have a whole lot of carbon dioxide. Couldn’t we separate that stuff into carbon monoxide and oxygen for a major fuel ingredient and something to breathe? If we take some hydrogen along for the ride, we could even make water (no pun intended).
How about using nuclear powered propulsion instead of packing all that fuel? We can safely power submarines with it, so why not rockets?
We could use the moon as a space station since we know how to get there. It could be a rest stop like a convenience store in Elida on the way to Roswell. Besides, we could capitalize on a virtually endless supply of green cheese for chip dip for the trip.
Yes, my friends, we can and should set up Martian exploration for world morale. It can be done, so let’s do it.
I realize this proposal and means to achieve it must look really simplistic, but bear in mind I have no idea of what I’m talking about.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: