Astronaut and author Commander John Herrington took the time while visiting Stillwater on Wednesday to talk with the News Press about his views on the value of the space program and the challenges it faces in our current political and economic environment.
Q: As someone who has been to space, what do you think was the value of our nation’s drive to get to the moon?
“I’d say the nature of the human species is to always look for that next thing. And I think what the space program did for us when I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, was the outgrowth of what happened with the space program then, going to the moon, has fundamentally changed our lives.
What did it do to change life? We’re not living there but it fundamentally changed life here.
Now the next step, we’re going to go to the moon and Mars, what’s it going to do? What’s the next thing? Are we going to be an interplanetary species? Well, we need to take care of our own planet.
The way I look at it is, if I go to Mars because things are so bad here, why don’t we take care of our home here first?
Now I do like that. I’d love to go to Mars, don’t get me wrong. But as a civilization how do we take care of what we have? And that is how being an astronaut changed my perspective about what I do here on the Earth.”
Q: What about the value of a new push to travel back to the moon and on to Mars? The space program united Americans in the 1906s. Do you think it could help do that again?
“There’s value in pursuing it from a technical achievement perspective, I think. It motivated us, my generation, for the Space Shuttle and Space Station, certainly. But the reality is, and I think Jim Bridenstine (Administrator of NASA, former Oklahoma Congressman) pointed this out: It’s a political risk. How do you maintain the funding? Is the Democratic-controlled House going to appropriate funds to carry that through? It’s a political issue.
So two reasons to fly into space are politics or commercial. If you find someone who stands to make a profit doing it, they’ll do it. Or if there’s a political motivation to do it. What’s that motivation to do that? I don’t see that motivation is here now to make the effort to put the money forward.”
Q: What effect has privatizing parts of the space program had?
“It’s been privatized but who’s paying for it? We are … They would not be doing what they do if NASA wasn’t providing contracts to fly cargo, basically fly astronauts. They started the business but we are funding it as tax-payers. So it we weren’t funding it, they wouldn’t be doing it.
It’s going to cost an estimated $30 billion just to go to the moon. Who’s paying for that? Are private companies going to pay for it? No. They don’t have the money to pay for it.
So as tax-payers is that something we see return on investment that makes it worth spending the money, Democrat or Republican? That’s a challenge, it really is.”