7 August 2012
Everything about Curiosity's landing on Mars was impressive. The fact that the crazy-complicated sky crane worked perfectly.[?] The fact that three satellites already orbiting Mars helped relay data and document the landing.[?] The fact that the rover contains the last of our Plutonium-238.[?] The fact that it cost more than a manned Apollo mission to the Moon.[?]
Unfortunately, Curiosity represents the end of an era. For the past 15 years NASA has embarked on a well-planned, methodical exploration of Mars.[?] Every two years they launch a new mission, and these assets have accumulated into an impressive infrastructure on and around Mars. But changing budget priorities have ended this effort.[?] Next year's MAVEN orbiter will be the last thing NASA sends to Mars in the foreseeable future.
This is a repeating pattern. NASA spent 15 years building the space station, before changing priorities caused them to stop abruptly, declaring it "complete" while leaving the Habitation module, Centrifuge module and Crew Return Vehicle on the ground.[?] NASA spent 15 years building the space shuttle infrastructure, before changing priorities caused them to stop abruptly, abandoning the plans for polar launches,[?] high-energy Centaur,[?] and advanced boosters,[?] all of which were ready to fly. NASA spent 15 years building the Apollo program, before changing priorities caused them to stop abruptly, leaving the rockets for Apollos 18, 19 and 20 sitting on the ground and abandoning the Moon for half a century.[?]
If NASA can't focus on a goal for more than 15 years, then they are not going to be successful at any large space effort. Whether it is mining asteroids, building a moon base, or colonizing Mars -- I don't care what they do, just pick one thing and stick with it.