Shooting for the stars here on Earth
I was grateful for the linkurl:invitation;http://www.amnh.org/rose/specials/?src=p_h to witness the return to Earth of NASA?s Stardust mission broadcast live from the American Museum of Natural History this Sunday. While the notion of roaming the halls of a favorite childhood retreat at 5am is appealing, I?
I was grateful for the linkurl:invitation;http://www.amnh.org/rose/specials/?src=p_h to witness the return to Earth of NASA?s Stardust mission broadcast live from the American Museum of Natural History this Sunday. While the notion of roaming the halls of a favorite childhood retreat at 5am is appealing, I?m even more enthralled by the possibilities of Stardust, an unmanned spacecraft which captured particles from the comet Wild 2 offering the possibility of a glimpse into the very birth of the solar system.
I?m no space addict, although I will admit a certain level of giddiness any time I get to talk to a real astronaut. Jay Buckey who linkurl:wrote for us;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15336/ on potential hurdles in a manned mission to Mars was no exception.
Nevertheless, while I agree we have the potential to send people to Mars and that the quest to do so would result in some interesting technological advancements, I doubt that the discoveries could trump the enormous amounts of information derived from recent unmanned missions. Dollars-to-discoveries, you can?t beat the value of unmanned missions. Spirit and Discovery are still sending back information from Mars long after their mission?s expiration date, and the cost was several orders of magnitude less than a manned mission. Nevertheless, Bush is bent on sending people to mars by 2015.
The sting of this push was realized with the release of the federal appropriations budget for R&D in fiscal year 2006. AAAS linkurl:reviews the numbers here;http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/upd1205.htm. Of the $2.2 billion dollar increase from last year, 97% of funds are going to defense-weapons development and human space flight. This seems a bit short sighted as we?re on the cusp of so many exciting life science discoveries here on Earth and hundreds of millions of dollars (not to mention a few human lives) could be better protected by sending robots out into the great beyond. The move has some grumbling that George W. Bush?s record doubling of the NIH budget may have meant more trouble for life science spending in the long run than it did in the short run.