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A Personal Plea


 

Almost all of the information in The Nine Planets was gathered by NASA spacecraft and scientists and paid for by taxes. Our exploration of the solar system is necessarily a public enterprise and it lives or dies by public opinion.

But today the space program in the United States is in trouble. A series of tragic failures (Challenger, Mars Observer) and embarrassing setbacks (Galileo's stuck antenna, HST's flawed optics) have changed NASA's reputation from one of daring and can-do pragmatism to one of bumbling in-fighting bureaucracy. Popular support has largely evaporated. Its budget has been repeatedly slashed. Each year NASA struggles to make do with less and less. Many good proposals have been shelved and once in a lifetime opportunities missed.

It doesn't have to be this way. Remember Apollo? If you want to see America's space program restored to its former glory, you can help. Write your representatives in Washington. Jaw-bone your friends and colleagues. Join an activist group. Don't let policy be set by the opinions of those who think that the space program is only for Trekkies and that cutting NASA's budget alone can wipe out the deficit. Let your voice be heard.

There was recently a letter writing campaign to save Mars Surveyor. Apparently, one Congressman's office received a total of 10 (ten) letters of support which was considered "a lot" and was a significant factor in that Congressman's decision. So despite the conventional wisdom, at least on relatively limited issues like this, your voice can indeed be heard.

Some feel that the Space Station and the manned program in general is taking scarce dollars away from space science and argue for cuts in the manned program in hopes of grabbing some of the residual funds. But, in my opinion, this is a short-sighted attitude. An anonymous Usenet poster got it about right when he wrote:

"There are those who have different points of view about what our goals should be in space. Some are interested in science or just the beauty of an alien landscape; they are satisfied looking vicariously through the eyes of a machine; others feel the need to actually walk those alien landscapes, or send human proxies. Still others believe that human destiny is in the stars and we must expand into the universe to survive. I guess we need to work together, and tolerate each other's motivations."

Benjamin Franklin put it more succinctly: "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

If you're a citizen of another nation, I apologize for the USA bias in all this. (In fact, I'm considerably embarrassed by the way my country has sometimes let down its partners in space.) If your country has its own space program (see below) please support it and programs of international cooperation like Cassini/Huygens.


An easy way to help is to join a space advocacy group like the following. They deserve the support of all who care about mankind's future in space.

The Planetary Society

  • TPS is the largest space advocacy group. It is more oriented toward space science but supports manned space, too. TPS is particularly active in promoting cooperative projects between NASA and the Russian space agency.
  • Membership is $30/year US   Canada, $45/year elsewhere; includes The Planetary Report (bimonthly).
  • phone: +1 626 793 5100
  • email: tps@planetary.org
  • address:
           The Planetary Society
           65 North Catalina Avenue
           Pasadena, CA 91116
  • For more information see The Planetary Society WWW page.

National Space Society

  • The National Space Society promotes change in social, technical, economic, and political conditions to advance the day when people will live and work in space.
  • Membership is $35/year ($20 for students/seniors) includes Ad Astra (bimonthly).
  • Membership Info: 202 543-1900
  • email: nsshq@nss.org
  • Hotline: +1 202 543 1995
  • address:
         National Space Society
         600 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
         Suite 201     
         Washington, DC 20003       
  • For more information see NSS Home page

SEDS

  • SEDS (Students for the Development and Exploration of Space) is an independent, student-based organization which promotes the exploration and development of space. SEDS pursues this mission by educating people about the benefits of space, by supporting a network of interested students, by providing an opportunity for members to develop their leadership skills, and inspiring people through our involvement in space-related projects. SEDS believes in a space-faring civilization and that focussing the enthusiasm of young people is the key to our future in space.
  • Membership Info is available at http://www.seds.org/join.php or by email to seds@seds.org
  • See the SEDS Home Page for more info.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific

  • The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) is an international scientific and educational organization, founded in 1889, that brings together professional astronomers, amateur astronomers, educators at all levels, and interested laypeople.
  • Membership is $35/year, includes Mercury (bimonthly).
  • address:
           Astronomical Society of the Pacific
           390 Ashton Avenue
           San Francisco, CA 94112 
           USA
    
  • email: membership@astrosociety.org
  • phone: +1 415-337-1100
  • fax: +1 415-337-5205
  • See the ASP Home Page for more info.

Space Frontier Foundation

  • The Space Frontier Foundation is an organization of people dedicated to opening the Space Frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible.
  • email: Bob Werb
  • SFF Home page

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Bill Arnett; last updated: 2002 Mar 5

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