Playing it safe won't get us to the stars.
Where is our Moon Base? What about those Earth-like planets we’re supposed to have found by now? Extraterrestrial life? A human mission to Mars? In short, what happened to the 20th century dreams that were fueled by the Apollo missions and Viking landings on Mars?
There is still plenty of excitement in the fields of space science and technology. That was evident at the recent Kepler Science Conference, held at NASA Ames to report on the discovery of new exoplanets, and is regularly found at astrobiology science meetings. But these days, there are at least as many setbacks as advances. The NASA-sponsored 2014 Astrobiology meeting has been postponed due to federal spending restrictions on conferences, and when it comes to launching new missions to address big scientific questions, progress is painfully slow. Why should we wait years for another mission to search for second Earths? Why send another orbiter to Mars (MAVEN is scheduled to launch next week) when we have the technological capability to search for life on the planet’s surface, or launch a probe to splash down on one of Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes?
The solar system beckons: Cassini spacecraft ...