This article on CNN.com describes how NASA Administrator Michael Griffin is defending his agency's new budgetary priorities. Programs for basic science and unmanned exploration are being cut to make way for the remainder of the shuttle and space station work, as well as the proposed Mars mission. U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York) writes:
"This budget is bad for space science, worse for earth science, even worse for aeronautics."
Alas, while I am very disheartened by the possible cuts to the Europa mission and the Terrestrial Planet Finder, I'm not going to join in this criticism. In my opinion, NASA must get back in the manned exploration game. Running a bus service to low earth does not count as exploration. Unfortunately, we have commitments to the space station (which looks like a complete waste of money right now) and we have nothing to replace our existing shuttle capability until new vehicles are produced. So were are stuck paying for two programs that are going nowhere.
Man, I can't wait until private companies finally get into low earth orbit...
The Mars mission needs to happen. As a society, we have to leave the confines of our gravity well. Otherwise, we are destined for extinction. Sure, we probably have many, many years before extinction is a threat. But forgive me for being selfish... I want to live to see people living on other planets.
As an American, I also worry about a decline in our exploratory impulse. The Chinese could have dominated the world centuries ago if they had not turned inward and demolished the Great Armada of Admiral Zheng. Exploration just wasn't a priority for them. It's ironic that China is now an up-and-coming power who could, conceivably, beat us back to the moon and possibly to Mars as well.