September 26, 2008
NASA Leaders Say Space Exploration Critical
NASA's leader believes mankind's very survival depends on the advancement of space exploration.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin talked about the issue on the 50th anniversary of the US space agency.
Griffin said, this journey is full of unknowns and has only just begun.
"Does the survival of human kind depend upon it? I think so," he said.
Griffin said the first walk on the Moon was like Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the Americas.
"He traveled for months and spent a few weeks in the Americas and returned home. He could hardly have said to have explored the New World.
"So we have just begun to touch other worlds," said Griffin.
"I think we must return to the Moon because it's the next step. It's a few days from home," he said, adding Mars was also "only a few months" from Earth.
Griffin said that like the 15th century explorers who embarked on their adventures without knowing what they would find, a leap of faith is required for space travel.
"As we move out in our solar system, expanding human presence, we can't prove what we will find will be useful.
"It was understood in Columbus's time that if voyagers discovered new lands they would find valuable things. We can't prove today that we can exploit what we find to the benefit of humankind."
In the long term, Griffin believes "human populations must diversify if it wishes to survive."
During testimony to Congress in 2004, Griffin said, "The single overarching goal of human space flight is the human settlement of the solar system, and eventually beyond.
"I can think of no lesser purpose sufficient to justify the difficulty of the enterprise, and no greater purpose is possible."
Griffin said cooperation between nations is key if mankind's calling to the final frontier is to be realized.
"The space station is much bigger and better and more impressive and more productive as a result of the partnership with Canada, Russia, Europe, and Japan, than it would have been if we had done it ourselves," he said.
NASA's main man said he was disturbed by the imminent end of the space shuttle program in 2010. He voiced concerns that in the interim period the United States will be reliant on other nations to reach the heavens.
"There will be a gap. I don't like it but there it is. For the US to lose even for a period of time independent access to space, I don't think it's a good thing."
US astronauts will have to rely on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station until the next generation of US spacecraft -- Orion -- gets off the ground.
"I think that is a dangerous position to be in," said Griffin. "If anything at all in that five-year period goes wrong with the Russian Soyuz ... that is a great concern."
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