Ezra Lb. wrote:Like a lot of folks I've watched the Philae Comet Lander with a great deal of interest. One point not much commented on in the media is that this mission is entirely a production of the European Space Agency without any contribution from the US space program. Get used to it folks. NASA severed its relationship with the ESA a while back and has put all its moonrocks in one basket, producing a new space tugboat to replace the shuttle. Oh the next few years will be interesting; the New Horizons probe fly-by of Pluto will be next summer and there is another Mars Rover scheduled to be deployed in the next three to five years. But those missions were bought and paid for years ago. We're making noises about a human mission to Mars but that will cost trillions and is decades away at best.
The sobering truth is that the cutting edge of science is moving away from the US to Europe. First the Hadron Collider and now the unhumanned space program. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not against humanned spaceflight. It's just that I'm primarily interested in the science. And these robot probes are where the action is, not flying people up to the ISS, a huge cash cow that has produced little if any science whatsoever. I want to see what if anything is swimming in those underground oceans on the icy outer moons of the solar system and if it's a choice between that and sending humans to Mars, well I know which choice I would make.
I'm going to disagree a bit here.
First, the notion that ESA "severed ties" with NASA is incorrect. They share data and collaborate on missions often.
Future ESA-NASA joint projects include the James Webb Space Telescope and the proposed Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. NASA has committed to provide support to ESA's proposed MarcoPolo-R mission to return an asteroid sample to Earth for further analysis. NASA and ESA will also likely join together for a Mars Sample Return Mission.
Second, as far as manned space exploration is concerned, the ESA contributes and partners but has neither the budget nor the infrastructure to compete. NASA is still top dog and I don't think that the ESA has any intention to be competitive in this arena.
Third, JPL/NASA's experience and ability with regard to robotic exploration is unmatched. One need only look to the recent successes with the Mars rovers (all of them) to see it. Opportunity is still doing good science after how many years? Curiosity continues to perform well and is a marvel. While NASA has had a few setbacks over the years, their success rate is pretty astounding considering the budgetary table scraps they are given.
Lastly, CERN deserves all of the accolades they receive regarding the LHA. They were able to get something accomplished that the US was unable to. Kudos to them. There are, however, a lot of questions right now about the Higg's Boson "discovery" and the jury is now out as to whether or not they actually found it. Also, the LHA has proven to be a balky and troublesome bit of kit and it's going to take large sums of money to keep it running and make repairs/upgrades. Fingers crossed, but I have my doubts.
Also, let's not forget that the Philae lander may not be able to complete the mission it was designed for. The harpoons designed to reel it in and fix it to the comet's surface did not deploy, leaving the lander in a location that makes it difficult for the solar panels to generate the necessary power. I'm not suggesting that it's dead, but it is on life support. Ten years in deep space will do that to you.