JWST a Mirror into NASA’s Future?
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)could prove to be one if the most important missions that not just NASA but mankind has ever undertaken. The human race has looked up at the stars as long as we have existed and pondered our place in the universe.
We now have the technology to answer some of the ultimate questions that those before us could not. Thanks to our technology we can now peer deeper into space, and further back in time, than has ever been possible. We have the technology, but do we have the will? In the 60’s America was focused on the future, nothing was impossible. In every respect we knew then that our generation would be measured by it’s ability to plan for the future and act on that plan. It seems that today we have lost that vision, that ability to dream of tomorrow. The recent near cancellation of JWST is just one example of that, another is the ending of the Space Shuttle program and the fact that it has no replacement in place.
America can no longer send a man into space on her own.Yes JWST is expensive, but so was the trip to America by Columbus. All cutting edge projects are. The cost of exploration has no guarantee of return. If we are not willing to explore, to expand our horizons what will become of us? As with Hubble we know that we will have a view of the universe we have never seen before. We know we will learn things and expand mankind’s understanding of our place in the universe. Even the average person will benefit by this increase in our understanding. It has religious, political, and intellectual implications.
We are on the verge of a world that is inner focused, not thinking of tomorrow, of loosing the ability to dream, the capability to change the future, and to understand that serendipity will indeed bring progress. One cannot predict what we will learn but we know that we will learn. If we do not explore we only know one thing…we will NOT learn. We cannot allow this to happen. Each of us has to make a change. We are part of the problem, we are part of the solution. The choice is ours how will history remember us?
The JWST is not a vision of the future, but an indication of our paralysis in the face of change. We are still pushing the heroic missions that go up as one-offs that either succeed or fail, but leave no infrastructure for future missions. We must build in space, occupy it, use it to support and assemble these large missions. Instead of the multi-billion dollar sections of the ISS, now not able to be transported into orbit any more, we need things like the Bigelow inflatables transported to orbit by rockets now existing, up to and including the F9 heavy of SpaceX, but no more. There is no need for the Orion and the SLS, allowing their future billions to be spent on science and infrastructure. A launch should require only hundreds of people, not thousands, and no launch should require something as large and expensive as the VAB or the refurbishment of a transporter and other launch facilities that will cost over two billion dollars. Assemble horizontally and rail to pad and elevate. Get to orbit as cheaply as possible, assemble on orbit, check out, fuel, launch again to further destination. If we do it often and less expensively, space can be an economic boon to science and technology, and become the true future of our species.
All great points. There is a rule of thumb about the cost of a launch once your sitting on the pad waiting to go. Every day you don’t launch costs one million dollars. There is a huge infrastructure in place and it takes a lot of money to keep it in place. We can take some solace in the fact that the U.S. and NASA as a program that is the envy of the world. It is not the cheapest, or even the most efficient but it is the best, not to many would argue with that. If we do not find ways to do more with less at some point we will be overtaken by someone who can do it better. NASA and the other agencies do indeed play an important place in the future not only of their organizations but of mankind itself. Hopefully, someday they will improve, reduce costs, and find ways through the bureaucracy to get what needs to be done …done.
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