Ad Astra
Volume 14, Number 5 September/October 2002

Launch Pad

A Space Program without Border or Boundaries
By Kirby Ikin

In this special issue of Ad Astra we look across the many different space programs of the world, and in our lead article the new faces that are making a real difference in the development of space science and engineering. So commonly, we think of space as being a common series of “faces,” many often in the news and public eye. But away from the glare of publicity, thousands of people all across the country—and the world—are laboring to craft goals and scientific objectives for everything from searches for extra solar planets, to experiments aboard the space station, to new technologies that may someday send us back to the Moon, and onward to Mars—destinations in space that are in fact our destiny to reach.

For today’s young people, a career in the space field would mean excitement, learning, personal and professional growth, and above all the opportunity to make a contribution to humanity that could make a profound difference in the future lives of generations to come. We at the National Space Society hope that this issue will help stimulate some career-planning efforts of our readers, and also focus our attention to the trans-national character of space exploration. The search for life in space knows no international borders or boundaries. No cultural biases or restraints. Space is truly for every nation and people, a tool to enhance the quality of life itself, and help us answer the age-old questions: what’s it all about? And why are we here?
Ad Astra!

Space Exploration: In search of a mission
By Frank Sietzen, Jr.

Some 45 years ago on 4 October an object the size of a beach ball was blasted into Earth orbit by a ballistic missile. Speeding aloft from a secret base in the Ural Mountains, the tiny craft, carrying only a radio receiver and no scientific instruments, opened an age of exploration the world had never before seen.

That craft was called Sputnik 1; the date 4 October 1957. It was the dawn of the Space Age. And that age is with us still. Although you might not know that. Today the dominant space program of the world, unlike that which existed on that October Friday 45 years ago, belongs to the United States. By budget, resources, infrastructure and character the American space effort is an extraordinary achievement. In its stable of launch vehicles are the world’s most reliable boosters and only reusable space vehicle. Aloft in space today is the only permanent space station ever assembled by humans. Its scientific probes have begun to reveal the hidden mysteries of Mars, a process that will take decades and require the landing of human field geologists to complete. Inside the civil and military space research laboratories across the nation new technologies for advanced space vehicles are under design and preliminary development. Together, both civil and military space accounts for more than $30 billion in annual spending, a sum that dwarfs the space expenditures of any other nation on Earth. There is but one dark cloud hanging over the U.S. triumph in space.

It isn’t going anywhere.

There are many extraordinary pieces but not a whole.

We have shuttles, and stations, and satellites, and probes. But no central organizing principle. Nearly five decades after all of this space exploration effort began, no one single rationale has been established that pulls all of these disparate elements together. The last time that happened was 25 May 1961. The goal, landing humans on the Moon, was announced that day, and achieved less than nine years later.

One down.


Today, we are in need of a central goal to restructure and in fact reinvigorate human spaceflight. That is, a goal first.

Then money.

But at the beginning, we need to take the research racks of the International Space Station, and the research spaces in the laboratories on Earth and direct them all to a single priority.

So, what should that priority be?

Sending a geologist to Mars.

Perhaps by way of the Moon, perhaps not.

A full exploration of the Martian environment and what has happened to its water and atmosphere across the eons. In its initial stages this will not require more money, at least not much more. What it will do is serve as a focus. And that focus, and an unleashed U.S. space industry, will slowly shake out and define what architecture will be best needed to accomplish this goal, and on what practical timetable.

Impossible you say?

Well, just imagine how far away the Moon looked on 4 October 1957, a tranquil Friday here in Washington. We got there in less than a decade, and there are six American flags up there to prove it.

We did it once because we had a goal.

It is time—past time—to have another one.

Ad Astra!

back to top