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Do politicians know more about space exploration than rocket scientists?

Do politicians know more about space exploration than rocket scientists?

by David Veksler

Are politicians more knowledgeable than rocket scientists when it comes to planning the next U.S. moon shot?

House and Senate appropriators have pushed back against NASA’s proposed termination of a planned 2011 robotic lunar lander mission, directing the agency to spend $20 million this year to continue work on a follow-on to the 2008 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

…we do not agree with your decision to terminate the LPRP program at this time pending a further examination of program requirements, design, cost and viability,” the letter reads. “Therefore we direct that $20 million be provided to continue planning for a potential LPRP mission during the remainder of [2007].”

“I do not need a robotic lander to reduce risks for the human landings,” [NASA Administrator Mike] Griffin said. “Everybody who has carefully looked at that has said you don’t need it.”

Politicians may have a number of reasons for preserving missions that teams of NASA specialists deem unnecessary: the media from moon rovers is a cheap thrill, it preserves funds promised to constituents ($105.8m in ’07), and it competes with similar missions from half a dozen other nations, which will “end up with lots of pictures of the same place.

Good publicity, certainly, but not an efficient way to run a space program.  But what else can you expect when you mix science and government?

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