Are politicians more knowledgeable than rocket scientists when it comes to planning the next U.S. moon shot?

House and Senate appropriators have pushed back against NASA’s proposed termination of a planned 2011 robotic lunar lander mission, directing the agency to spend $20 million this year to continue work on a follow-on to the 2008 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

…we do not agree with your decision to terminate the LPRP program at this time pending a further examination of program requirements, design, cost and viability,” the letter reads. “Therefore we direct that $20 million be provided to continue planning for a potential LPRP mission during the remainder of [2007].”

“I do not need a robotic lander to reduce risks for the human landings,” [NASA Administrator Mike] Griffin said. “Everybody who has carefully looked at that has said you don’t need it.”

Politicians may have a number of reasons for preserving missions that teams of NASA specialists deem unnecessary: the media from moon rovers is a cheap thrill, it preserves funds promised to constituents ($105.8m in ’07), and it competes with similar missions from half a dozen other nations, which will “end up with lots of pictures of the same place.

Good publicity, certainly, but not an efficient way to run a space program.  But what else can you expect when you mix science and government?