President Obama Rejects Science
NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead. So are the rockets being designed to take them there — that is, if President Barack Obama gets his way.
When the White House releases his budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was supposed to return humans to the moon by 2020. The troubled and expensive Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for its bigger brother, the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to take humans back to the moon.
There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases, no Constellation program at all.
Actually, the President’s decision to abandon the mission to the moon represents something more deep than that: it is repudiation of the venerable American tradition of Big Science. (But President Obama can rest assured that it also represents a repudiation of George Bush.) Big Science, in the telling of the historian D. De Solla Price, is defined by a marshaling of national energy and resources into learning something big – something tremendously important about the universe. It epitomizes “pure science” – that is, the process of cultivating “pure” knowledge and understanding about the physical universe. (More on that in this handsome volume.) Man’s exploration of space is a classic example of Big Science. Implicit in the concept is that man has the capacity to exert some degree of mastery – for how else can one learn? – over the physical world. And, most importantly, that there is nothing wrong with this.
It appears that President Obama to have a very different view of science. On the campaign trail in 2008, he famously declared that, as president, he would “restore science to its rightful place.” Perhaps he thinks science’s “rightful place” is China. For rather than promote a science policy that aims to expand man’s understanding and mastery of the physical world, the President seeks to shrink it. His is a science policy that seeks to reduce man’s “footprint” and promote galactic isolationism. Is this really a “science policy” at all?
Man’s capacity to comprehend and master the physical universe is one of his greatest gifts. Traditionally, American Presidents have realized this, and promoted Big Science accordingly.
On second thoughts, then, Obama’s policy is not simply “Unkennedy,” or, for that matter, “Unbush.”