Paul Hildebrandt began a love affair with space as a child through science fiction. As an adult, the director has set out to make a documentary called Fight for Space. "Since the Apollo era of the 1960s, NASA's budget has been shrinking and our ambitions in space have been decreasing," he says on the film's Kickstarter page. "We are producing a documentary that will examine the reasons why our space program is not all it can be."
He has interviewed scientists, engineers, astronauts, politicians, teachers, and ordinary citizens about the space program, and hopes to tell one clear story through a number of viewpoints. We called him up to find out a more.
How and why did you get interested in the United States and space exploration?
For as long as I can remember I've been interested in space. It's possible that Star Trek may have had something to do with it, as one of my earliest memories was sitting with my father watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. From the third grade on I've always considered myself an enthusiast. During that time the Space Shuttle was relatively new. We were advancing an engineering frontier and the International Space Station was being constructed. Rumors of a tenth planet whirled around the science classroom. Electronics technology was advancing at an alarming rate. We had a wide selection of science fiction television shows to choose from. There was no reason not to be excited about the future.
I believe that we should constantly be looking up and out, that we must strive to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. As most of us were when we were children, I was an explorer, and that drive to explore has never left me. Space is the ultimate frontier. When you look into the sky and out to the stars we can only guess what awaits us. The universe is pretty big, and it would be a shame not to see what's out there.
Can you say that America lost its edge in space considering the success of the Mars rover and SpaceX?
Yes. Here's why: In 1969, we landed a man on the moon. This was accomplished using the most powerful rocket ever built and the computing power of less than a pocket calculator. Fast forward to today. In 2004, the Constellation project was stated to take 16 years to return to the moon. We got there in eight years the first time. SpaceX is an excellent endeavor and I applaud their efforts greatly, but they are picking up where NASA left off and not pushing further out yet. I'm not blaming them for this, as to do so would be incredibly expensive and I think what they are doing is great for the economic security of the nation. Consider this however, the International Space Station orbits the earth at a distance of 230 miles, that's less than the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles; Mars is roughly 34 million miles away.
Let's not forget about our newest friend on Mars. The Curiosity rover, another engineering marvel. However, consider that we sent our first spacecraft to Mars in 1975. We have sent several since then, so although Curiosity is an excellent craft and will undoubtedly reveal new secrets about Mars, we still have not sent humans to Mars. We have no immediate plans to, and we have yet to send a lander to Europa. Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) is an excellent mission. It is worth the money spent, and the engineering and scientific benefits gained from it will pay it back many times over. There is one key point that must be addressed about Curiosity. Many Americans don't even know the name of the lander, what it's doing there, or why we sent it, and in a few months, it will all but be forgotten by the majority of the general public. If we had sent humans to Mars, they would be making headlines daily and the scientific and engineering ambition of the nation would be in full force as it was during the 1960s. We build statues to people, not robots.
On the Kickstarter page you mention that funding for NASA has decreased since the 1960s. What are the numbers?
Adjusted for inflation, the NASA budget in 1966 was $32 billion. Today, it is around $17 billion and declining.
In the trailer, you say the United States’ ambitions in space exploration went down in the last 40 years. Can you provide a few examples that illustrate this?
As mentioned above, it took us eight years to get to the moon in the 1960s. We planned for a mission back to the moon in 2020. That mission was cancelled. In 1991, President Bush called for a mission to Mars. That mission never took place. In 2010, Barack Obama said we’d go to Mars by 2030. Will this happen? With the track record of cancelled NASA projects, I have serious doubts. The next president won't care in the slightest about what his predecessor wanted, and the president who is around in the 2030s won't either. We as a people must fight for space so that the politicians understand that is what the American people want.
What will it take to reenergize the space program in your opinion?
That's what our film will find out. I don't claim to be an expert, but we are interviewing experts. With their help we will craft a basic message that will say what we can do to reenergize our space program and what our next steps should be. In my opinion our next steps should be a permanent colony on the Moon, or Mars, or both. The Moon should be the first stop in my opinion because it's fairly close, and if anything goes wrong, help is only a few days away versus a year away.