Commentary by Michael Mackowski
In my many years of being an advocate for space exploration, I run into the same questions about why we should send people into space. Recently, the debate on where to go next (Moon, Mars, asteroids) has heated up and is even dividing the pro-space community. So I collected my notes and reviewed some news articles and commentaries and came up with the chart you see at the link here:
Let’s assume that the ultimate goal is to get people to Mars. The purpose of the chart is to consider how we accomplish that. And why. What are the options along the way? Do we need to go somewhere else first? How can we make it permanent and not just “flags and footprints”? What sort of space technology do we need?
The chart does not pretend to give any answers and it certainly is not all-inclusive. It simply tries to lay out the main issues that have been debated recently and offer some quick evaluation of the various factors involved. That evaluation, unfortunately, is not very optimistic. Considering the three main issues (where, how, and why), I don’t see an easy path to Mars at all. Space travel is difficult and expensive to begin with, and when you look at the obstacles to making any option workable, it’s not a pretty picture.
On the bright side, private entities are serious about exploring and utilizing space. In the past, governments were the only institutions with the resources to do that. With better technology, commercial firms are now approaching the capabilities that were once only available to government institutions. Still, someone like Elon Musk alone could not have funded the entire Apollo program, so space enthusiasts should not have unrealistic expectations. It’s going to take a lot of patience, but there is hope out there.
Comments and feedback on the graphic are welcome.