In a recent SmartPlanet blog, John Dodge posted his viewpoint about NASA's future. (Disclosure: SmartPlanet is a CBS Interactive brand.) Unlike his fellow blogger, Dana Blankenhorn, Dodge believes that space exploration should at least partially stay within the public sector and not be totally scrapped and handed over to private enterprise. With NASA suffering from underfunding, excessive challenges, and very little direction, it's no wonder that Blankenhorn believes what he does.
So, what will it take to get us excited about NASA again? I think it will require some serious energy by the government, pushing bold new plans for exploration to the moon and beyond. Many Americans are disinterested in the recent patterns of space shuttles to the International Space Station (ISS) and Hubble spacewalks. The Orion capsule as part of the Constellation Program might be able to pull off a reboot into space, but NASA needs more verbal support from the administration. If the general population could see astronauts reaching the moon once more, it might trigger a new interest in space exploration, which could bring the administration around but that won't happen until Orion spends some time in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Also, we need to see real plans for what will come next, so that people don't fall back into the mindset that we've had for the last 30 or so years — that NASA is only concerned in LEO operations, and a trip to the moon is a one-time event.
Another factor that Dodge writes about is the availability of private enterprise handling the LEO operations to ISS and such. There are commercial services that could handle these tasks in the very near future, and the potential for less expensive trips is much higher than that of NASA-operated missions. This would free up NASA to focus on research and development for further exploration to the moon, Mars, and elsewhere instead of maintaining that which is in relatively easy reach.
What do you think about NASA's plan to send Orion to the moon and eventually to Mars? Do you think NASA can pull off this plan within the next 20 years?