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In a piece today at the Huffington Post, science journalist Seth Borenstein declares the wonders of NASA’s next mission: to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, as declared by President Obama.
If you believe this is going to happen, then I have a bridge I want to sell you. To do it we need a spaceship in which people can live for at least a year, and a rocket to get that ship into orbit. Not only do we not yet know how to build such a spaceship, we no longer have the capability of putting it into orbit. In case you’re unaware (Borenstein acts like he is), the space shuttle no longer exists. And under this administration and Congress, any replacement we get isn’t going to be able to launch such an interplanetary spaceship anywhere in the near future, especially faced as we are with the present federal debt.
The disgraceful thing about this article, however, is the lack of skepticism shown by Borenstein.
Though the article is an opinion piece, Borenstein is still a science journalist of some note, and it isn’t the job of journalists to be the pitchman for government politicians or bureaucrats. Just because Obama has declared we have to get to an asteroid by 2025 does not mean that we should, or can. A good journalist would at least consider some of the serious unsolved political and engineering problems that face us in this matter.
Borenstein ignores these issues entirely, and instead creates the strawman argument that the critics of this mission are opposed to visiting the asteroids under any condition. As he writes, “They dismiss talk of asteroid visits.” This is crap. No one really opposes such a mission on its face. Putting a human on an asteroid would be exciting, adventurous, and scientifically worthwhile.
What the critics merely recognize, as Borenstein does not, is the technical and political realities. How do we build a self-sufficient manned spaceship that can be maintained and repaired by humans far from Earth? How do we conquer the problems of bone density loss that humans experience in weightlessness? How do we supply such a vessel with sufficient water and oxygen for years at a time? How do we protect the astronauts from the deadly radiation of interplanetary space?
And most important, how do we figure out any of this stuff, considering the lack of funds and the political turf warfare that presently exists in Congress, NASA, and the executive branch over what to do next in space?
For a science journalist to ignore all these realities and instead act as NASA’s — and Obama’s — salesman is downright embarrassing. In the end such poor writing will do more harm than good for the future of space exploration. And you can see this immediately by reading the hundreds of negative comments on the webpage itself.