At about the same time that NASA was experiencing the triumph of landing Curiosity on the surface of Mars, there was a mini-disaster which took place at the Kennedy Space Center. The Morpheus lander, meant to one day explore places like the Moon or a near-asteroid, crashed and burned a few seconds after it lifted off. It was unmanned, so nobody got hurt, thankfully. Something about the article caught my attention, though. NASA had made the attempt to build a cheap lander. According to the Associated Press, “the lander was built mostly with low-cost, off-the-shelf materials”.
Is this really what America is coming to? Once upon a time, we were willing to spend money on great achievements, like sending Americans out into the universe. Is this part of our new obsession with being fiscally conservative? Let me give everyone a hint: stuff made of cheap materials is never that good. That’s why the slippers I buy at K-Mart usually fall apart after a few weeks. Could we at least not be cheap when it comes to our space exploration?
It’s been amusing over the past few days to watch my friends–including my conservative friends–cheering for the landing on Mars. Yes, this is what happens when our government is willing to invest a little more money (and yes, I’m aware this includes working with private contractors) and chase after great ambitions for this country. NASA is also planning terrible government schemes such as finding better ways to monitor severe weather, studying the Earth’s radiation belts and the effects of microgravity, and possibly landing on that near-Earth asteroid (but not with Morpheus).
I just hope we stop laboring under the delusion that we can do these things on the cheap. Thrift store sales can be good for a cute sweater sometimes…not so much for space.