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Sunday 20 April 2014

edward wright commentary

Commentary

Struggling to Understand the Paradigm Shift

by edward wright

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center news blog has an interesting article about Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology.

The American space program stands at the cusp of a “water rush” to the moon by several companies developing robotic prospectors for launch in the near future, according to a NASA scientist considering how to acquire and use water ice believed to be at the poles of the moon.

“This is like the gold rush that led to the settlement of California,” said Phil Metzger, a physicist who leads the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Lab, part of Kennedy’s Surface Systems Office. “This is the water rush.”

Collecting the water, or at least showing it can be collected, is where the Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology comes in. The small company signed on in April for the third phase of a Small Business Innovative Research deal that continues research work to develop technologies NASA may need to harvest space resources in the future. [Emphasis Added]

The company already is far along in its development of a rover that will work on its own. There is a deal in place with SpaceX to launch a lander and rover on a Falcon 9 rocket in October 2015. Astrobotic is competing against several other companies for the Google Lunar X-Prize, an award worth up to $30 million funded by the Internet search engine company.

It is disappointing, though, that the article still assumes that space resources will be harvested by NASA, rather than private enterprise. NASA was created to be a research and exploration outfit, not a mining company. The United States Geological Survey does not harvest mineral resources in the United States. It performs research that enables private companies to harvest minerals. Surely, that is a more appropriate role for NASA.

NASA is trying but still having trouble understanding the paradigm shift.

Edward Wright is chairman of the United States Rocket Academy and project manager of Citizens in Space. You can find more articles by Mr. Wright at the Citizens in Space web site.

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