"Human space exploration is essentially over."
Progress in society is measured by the extent to which work that is dangerous or menial is done by machines. The benefits we enjoy from the space program - weather satellites, communications satellites and global positioning - come from robotic spacecraft. Few scientists are calling for a human mission to the Moon or Mars. Human space exploration is essentially over. It is too expensive and provides too little return. But politicians know that the American public identifies progress in space with human astronauts.
The Bush administration's solution is to create an impossibly expensive and pointless program for some other administration to cancel, thus bearing the blame for ending human space exploration. The return to the moon is not a noble quest. It is a poison pill.
Expensive and dangerous? So is parking your car here in Manhattan. (I don't know about "menial," though.)
The debate about human v. machine-based exploration began at the dawn of the space era. You either go for the ol' "robots are the natural extension of our frail human bodies" argument, or, you want to leave things like astronomical observation and remote sensing to the machines, and send humans to settle the planets.
Of course, it's really only about money, and cheap, relatively safe space transportation solutions would to a large extent moot the whole problem. And with numerous commercial space ventures now in the works, someday routine space travel and tourism will be available.
Meanwhile, though Park refers to "some other administration" canceling the plan, members of Congress -- Republicans and Democrats -- this week are trying to kill NASA's exploration plan to help pay for earthly necessities like hurricane relief.
For now, sometimes it looks like the robots may be winning.