Backers: NASA’s plans will withstand politics
Chief scientist for moon, Mars missions visits Denver this week
By Diedtra Henderson
Denver Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004 –
As President Bush’s approval rating has dipped to the lowest level since he took office, space enthusiasts insist that NASA’s new challenge of sending astronauts to the moon and Mars will outlive the political future of the president who proposed it.
In mid-January, Bush dominated the day’s news with a positive story: his sweeping vision to define NASA’s future by returning astronauts to the moon as a prelude to sending humans to Mars.
“This is going to survive this election – no matter who wins,” predicted Jim Banke, director of communications for the Space Foundation, a Colorado Springs-based space advocacy group. “And, it’s going to survive multiple elections and multiple Congresses and multiple swings in the polls from day to day.”
It’s Jim Garvin’s job to help make the moon-Mars vision a reality. Garvin visits Colorado this week to chitchat with engineers at Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace, responsible for delivering a flotilla of spacecraft and a bevy of instruments that NASA has scattered throughout the solar system. He will also give a presentation open to the public Thursday at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Garvin has no idea how election-year politics might impact moon-Mars missions.
“I have no political sense,” said Garvin, NASA’s chief scientist for its Mars program and acting chief scientist for the agency’s fledgling lunar program.
“All I can say is this exploration plan – the overarching pieces – are really a logical plan for a new NASA that responds to what we’ve been learning over the last 45 years.”
Recent missions, including a pair of twin geologic rovers that are scooting about Mars, should buoy public opinion about the space agency. And the moon and Mars are logical places to explore further, supporters of the missions say.
“There are some ‘holy grail’ destinations where people and machines can do good things together,” Garvin said.
The polls that most worry Jack O. Burns, the University of Colorado’s vice president for academic affairs, show that taxpayers are unwilling to foot the bill for ambitious space exploration. Fewer than half want to spend tax dollars on such far-flung adventures.
“NASA, at this stage, is going to really have to undertake a more aggressive campaign explaining this vision,” Burns said.
Enter Garvin and this week’s visit.
For the past four months, Garvin and others have aggressively built the process that will lead to the first robotic lunar mission in 2008, lackadaisically dubbed “LRO,” for lunar reconnaissance orbiter.
“Maybe we’ll name it for Bette Midler,” he said. “Something funny would be good.”
If you go:
NASA’s Jim Garvin discusses “Exploring the New Frontier: From the Moon to Mars” at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Tickets: $8 to $13.