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NASA's last Shuttle mission: What does this mean for the future of manned flight?

As NASA preps for its final Space Shuttle mission, people are wondering whether the Atlantis lift-off is a time to celebrate or mourn. Read what NASA's Charles Bolden says about outsourcing low-orbit to the private sector.

NASA's final Space Shuttle mission countdown is underway and the handwringing over a manned flight hiatus is picking up. The big question: Does the last Shuttle mission signal weakness or a necessary transition to a better way?

The Atlantis is scheduled to lift off for a final mission on Friday, but weather may delay the launch time. The last mission is essentially a final supply run to the International Space Station. After that, NASA -- and the U.S. space program -- is in a manned flight limbo of sorts as private sector picks up the space travel baton.

A sampling of recent press coverage highlights some of the reality behind the final Shuttle mission.

  • An Associated Press account rounds up how NASA legends Neil Armstrong and John Glenn are leading a group of critics who say that the U.S. space program is ignoring a long-held belief that there should be a backup plan. Indeed, the end of the Shuttle program leaves a manned flight vacuum.
  • The Wall Street Journal notes that the International Space Station now depends solely on Russia, the historic rival to the U.S. in the space race. The U.S. and European Space Agency will depend on Russia's Soyuz for a lift. In other words, Russia has a monopoly on manned space flight. Jean-Jacques Dordain, director of the European Space Agency, is quoted as saying that the situation is "uncomfortable" and a "collective mistake."
  • The end of the Shuttle means the loss of jobs and specialized expertise in space, CBS News notes.

So where is NASA headed? President Obama said on his Twitter town hall that NASA needs a new frontier. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden defended NASA, its plan to move forward and shot down critics over a backup plan. Bolden said:

As a former astronaut and the current NASA Administrator, I'm here to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we have laid the foundation for success - and for NASA failure is not an option. Once again, we have the opportunity to raise the bar, to demonstrate what human beings can do if we are challenged and inspired to reach for something just out of our grasp but not out of our sights.

In many respects, Bolden noted that the U.S. needs to outsource low-orbit to the private sector.

When I hear people say - or listen to media reports - that the final Shuttle flight marks the end of U.S. human spaceflight, I have to say . . . these folks must be living on another planet. We are not ending human space flight, we are recommitting ourselves to it and taking the necessary - and difficult - steps today to ensure America's pre-eminence in human space exploration for years to come.

But we have to do things differently. For one, we have to get out of the business of owning and operating low Earth orbit transportation systems and hand that off to the private sector, exercising sufficient oversight to ensure the safety of our astronauts.

We need to focus on deep space exploration, while empowering today's innovators and entrepreneurs to carry out the rest. This new approach to getting our crews and cargo into orbit will create good jobs and expand opportunities for the American economy.

And let me be crystal clear about this: I believe that American companies and their spacecraft should send our astronauts to the International Space Station, rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments. That is what this Administration is committed to, and that is what we are going to do.

Along with supporting the ISS and commercial crew transportation, NASA will pursue two critical building blocks for our deep space exploration future - a deep space crew vehicle and an evolvable heavy-lift rocket. And we will make the technology investments required to begin the era of deep space exploration today.

In other words, the future of manned flight will depend on companies like SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

If the U.S. can go through the transition to private low-orbit vehicles, maintain leadership and keep focused on going to Mars and deep space perhaps this three-year hiatus is worth it. In the meantime, many folks will wonder if that Atlantis lift-off is a time to celebrate or mourn. Related:

This post originally appeared on SmartPlanet, a sister site of TechRepublic.

91 comments
akadia69
akadia69

I'm not saying that I completely agree with what I am about to say but it only makes since. Everything else become so commercialized why not let this too become a more corporate and commercial endeavor. If what NASA says is true then hopefully we can expand our horizons. I tend to be skeptical about anything the "system" has to say about anything but, we, as geeks, knew this day would come eventually. Some may not have foreseen it happening in their lifetime but they knew it would happen one day. I say go for it! Many literary and cinematic vissionaries have portrayed this ideaology for some time. We all know science fiction is based on science fact. Besides, the rate of increase in radiation and solar activity this year alone should be concern enough for us to consider the posibility of another necessary "Ark" per se; if we wish our species not to become extinct.

tommy
tommy

I've been a sci-fi fan for as long as I can remember, and I'm old enough (just) to remember Neil bouncing around on the moon. I've always thought that there was a plan in place in the USA to take the species forward. While the European space agencies have been predominantly concerned with lifting bodies and the robotic exploration of our celestial neighbours I always saw NASA as being the big player. I saw our immediate future in space mapped out with the development of the shuttle, the building of a space station and the colonisation of the moon to provide us with a base on the foothills of our little planetary system to provide a stepping stone out to the asteroid belt and beyond. Why should we be doing this when we've got so much hardship on earth? I've had this discussion real time on numerous occasions, and I think the answer is really obvious. I don't get why other people don't get it. I think it's a sad day indeed when the biggest player in the exploration and potential exploitation of space is taking giant leaps backwards with respect to their capabilities. People take the rise out of Branson and his efforts, but history shows us that invention and development of aviation technologies followed a similar path to that which Branson is carving out a niche. It was only 10 years after the Write Brothers first powered, controlled and sustained flight that people were flying across the English Channel and aircraft were being commercially manufactured. If Branson can show profit with his early ballistic flights, how long will it be before he'll get the backing of business to start development of a LEO vehicle? I would not want to bet against the idea that the first settlements on the moon will be Virgin hotels.

oldmicro
oldmicro

While keeping the Congressional "Pork Belly" projects out of the loop, (Shipping the solid fuel boosters from California to Florida, which involved the O rings, because of a powerful Congressional push, contrary to sound engineering) NASA is better kept in the research field. As to the research projects underway for future manned US spaceflight: http://news.softpedia.com/news/Horizontal-Space-Launch-System-Proposed-156061.shtml and http://patrickmillard.com/blog/?p=1050 and http://www.nasa.gov/missions/research/x43-main.html The potential is there, and progress is being made. Brand new tech from the lowest bidder may not be the best policy, and only private enterprise is freed from that requirement.

techrepublic
techrepublic

Its not our dependents that are eating up our cash (credit) reserves - it's our wars. Do the math - one Iraq war would pay for a lot of space shuttles.

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

Why do they always call it MANNED spaceflight? Aren't women included? Why isn't it called CREWED spaceflight?

dkogiopoulos
dkogiopoulos

No need for shuttles when they have a shed full of toys at Area51

JoeyD714
JoeyD714

Just spent the last 30 minutes having salt water leaking out of these 2 vision ports in my face while watching the 2nd video about the shuttles life cycle. I am deeply saddened that politics, money and the fear generated by the last accident caused them to shut down such a wonderful program that has brought us so far. They were happy to be able to build the space station using the shuttle. I always thought that that was just practice, so the shuttle could be ready to build the first generation of something like the Starship Enterprise when the technology evolved to that point - at least an interplanetary craft, a permanently manned ship so large it wouldn't fit any where on earth. One that could fly between the various planets and beyond. I also wonder who or what if anything is going to take over the role the shuttle played in taking stuff up into space, fixing stuff out there, and bringing stuff & people back. We gonna just let Russia and China take over those leadership positions? I'm very sad about it. I think now was the wrong time, to shut down the shuttle. Just like you never quit a job before you have another one lined up, you should not shut down something like the shuttle until you have it's replacement in position to take over it's mission.

tutor4pc
tutor4pc

I thought mind altering drugs are illegal. What are the pols and the nasa guys smoking? There is a funny contradiction in capitalism. Washington wants the private sector to pick up the ball. These guys do things only for money, as they should. So if they can make money, how come NASA cannot? And who will be paying NASA for the oversight? The US will lose scientists and knowledge. Mr. von Braun will turn in his grave. It is business as usual: If something does not provide a profit quickly, it will be dumped. That happened to many inventions and other nations with a more long term view (like the Japanese or the Chinese) will gladly pick up the dumped items and make some profit from them.

lindsayaldred
lindsayaldred

To prevail in a war you need to control the skies. Now you need to control or at least be fully unencumbered in space to control the skies.. The Chinese realised this watching the (first) Gulf War. For the past 30 years they have had the largest, most widespread and most intensive industrial espionage operation the modern world has ever seen, They've copied the information satellite to the Tomahawk Cruise missile to the Neutron Bomb to the iphone4 and much more, and their first reverse-engineered blue-water aircraft carrier is about to start sea trials. A few years ago they demonstrated one of their early killer-satellite capabilities, taking out one of their own older satellites - their message was clear. Soon after, the Chinese Government announced that the militarisation of space was inevitable and that China would develop a leading role in that field. They now have their own global GPS system, because the current US-built and generously-shared one can be selectively shut off and dedicated to US military use during times of conflict. They have human space orbiting capability (and are aiming to establish a moon base by 2020, where they hope to mine strategic materials). They did all this while still receiving aid from other countries as a developing country. The ISS countries (wisely in my view) declined to invite China to participate in the ISS, something which has greatly peeved the Chinese Govt./Party. Remember they can spend all they want on their space and moon programmes without having to give a too much of a toss about 'people starving' - just keep the urban elite wealthy and the rest believing. Frequently up until the late 1980's top Chinese PLA generals would state openly in their media that 'of course' there would eventually be a war with the US, 'inevitably', for the simple reason that the US is the 'world's only remaining superpower'.. The only reason one would think a war with the world's only remaining superpower is if 'inevitable' is if you intended yourself to be the world's only remaining superpower. These types of public comment were effectively shut down after that and have not been heard since, but it does not mean that Chinese long-term strategic thinking has changed much. They are just one government that is determined to at least match, but would like to displace, the US's dominance of space. It would not surprise me that the EC has been having a serious look at matching it too. I say all this simply as a foreign (non-US citizen) resident of Hong Kong for the last 26 years with a close interest in mainland China affairs. Apart from all this, there is also ample evidence even just from NASA's generously-released footage that indicates there is a lot of other stuff going on up there that is not standard Earth tech and that there is actually very heavy traffic of this in the near-Earth region. The most serious and respected researchers in this field have publicly concluded that it is probably not what it apparently tries to present itself as, i.e. ET's from outer space, but very much a thing originating from the near-Earth environment and that it is mostly inimical to human interests (for the skeptical, just research it, the info is freely available now on the net). I believe the US Govt has found this out. I do not want a 'Full Disclosure'; it would bring us nothing of value, and anyway the information is already out there for those who care to look and dig a bit; I would rather have a US dominant space presence developing defensive tech for all foreseeable needs. Actually War in Space is already with us, with the Chinese announcement of their intention to militarise space. You could ague that it was getting militarised already with the US and allied dominance, but no other country has so publicly demonstrated a killer-satellite tech. As a citizen of the Free World (sadly such a distinction now exists again, even after the end of the Cold War), I am much more comfortable with the USA being the 'world's only superpower' than I am with any other country holding that position. They have the best freedom-guaranteeing Constitution of any country, and they generally take it seriously, and their track record internationally (taken as a whole) speaks for itself. Talk of a 'multi-polar world' is just smokescreen for those who would wish a different pole upon us.

Sirius B
Sirius B

Excellent tribute video. Regardless on whether or not it was done good or bad, or whether the money spent was wasted or worthwhile, one thing sticks in my mind since listening to the early days of the Gemini & Mercury flights on the radio. America after being surprised with the Sputnik launch, stopped looking inwards & started looking outwards & upwards. Because of that, many throughtout the world were not only awed, but enthralled with the Apollo launches, with the world praying for the safe return of Apollo 13, & then again with the launch of the Space Shuttle. Several 100 years from now, historians will look back & state that the past 50 years was where their conquest of space commenced. Yamamoto said it best on 12/7/41 - "I fear we have awoken a sleeping giant" That giant fell asleep again through the 50's only to have it reawoken by the USSR. It will be a crying shame if that giant fails to take that next major step - Apollo, Space Shutttle, it would be nice to have 3 out of 3 so that history can look back & say America took the planet to new heights. Leting Russia or China take over the mantle is in my view, an insult. OR doesn't America really care anymore?

benoddo
benoddo

We have "off-shored" the business of resupplying the ISS and sending astronauts into orbit. The end of the shuttle means the unemployment rate goes up as other nations prosper from our country's willingness to forgo economic sustainability for today's profits. We will never see a US mission to Mars or even return to the moon. The Space race is over and we lost!

cplusplusguy
cplusplusguy

As a retired NASA engineer let me remind you of the NASA motto that made me stay in Human Space Flight (ISS, Shuttle): " Today we do the impossible; tomorrow we do the never heard before." Your grandchildren, and perhaps even your children, shall see humans alight on the surface of Mars. Never mind the 'nay' sayers, they shall always be with us. Thanks

shuffle3
shuffle3

There are many good points made about politics, commercial ventures, and new frontiers, but let's be brutally honest. In human terms, each mission is a game of chance with the only wager the lives of gifted scientists and pilots.. The fundamental flaw with the shuttle is that you can't have a fuel tank full of liquid oxygen and hydrogen in Florida's climate and expect you will not have a massive problem with ice. NASA tried to play off the issue with trying to blame deficient adhesive for the tank coating falling away, but short of a thermos bottle, as Scotty would say "you canna change the laws of physics". The loss of the Challenger was from an organization that believed too much in its own luck. Didn't the media think NASA was uncaring that it didn't want a DOD spy satellite to assess the damage to Columbia after viewing the video from the ice strike on liftoff? Who would have had the callousness to tell the crew that the damage was so severe that it was unlikely their space craft would survive re-entry? It is one thing to take risks when your country and the ones you love are in danger or the advancement of humanity demands that risks are taken. It is another matter altogether to sacrifice at the altar of national ego and brand it space hegemony

edjcox
edjcox

On 20 Jul 1969 we landed on the moon, we all had great expectations. On 20 Jul 2011 the US will land it's final manned spaceflight, named Atlantis for the lost land and continent, how fitting. Scuttling our manned space ability without a viable follow on is the greatet technological mistake this country has ever made. Leadership allows people to aspire and achieve great things, ignoring the need to advance and work towards the future will doom those same people to mediocrity.

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

It's a far-out theory but I believe it. The public will only be exposed to the private exploits in this area until someone decides it's okay to blow the cover off what's been going on since about the time we went to the moon. This may not be true, but I find it a lot more interesting than conventional wisdom.

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

Many of these comments are making assumptions & jumping to ridiculous conclusions. Sheesh! I???m a huge advocate for continued space exploration by the USA & Maybe NASA has a shuttle successor under development that???s not yet ready to be revealed to the general public.

BPF53
BPF53

The Federal government dropped the ball back in the late 60's with no clear vision when we reached the moon, 30 yrs we could have had a large base on the moon by now. Allow generous tax incentives for "AMERICAN" companies for local space exploration (Moon, Mars) and NASA should expand research for long range propulsion, advanced interstellar research for travel to the stars and possible colonization of space.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

Lost your hi-tech job in America to an overseas call center? Don't feel bad; now it has happened to NASA employees too. Our leaders have decided to pay another country to be the "Taxi Driver" for our astronauts. Whatever has become of visionaries like JFK?

Kheld
Kheld

Im a Brit. The USA is currently heading the way the British Empire did. When you stop being the Policeman of the World & start being the Handout Centre of the World, you will fade into weak, pathetic embarrasing obscurity. Stop handouts. Save your country. Save the future for democracy, or the Chinese will win.

JSMc
JSMc

Has most everyone here been living under a cabbage leaf? On December 8 2010, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation or SpaceX successfully launched, orbited and recovered their Dragon spacecraft using their Falcon 9 launch vehicle. This was the initial demonstration flight under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS, contract. This contract will culminate in SpaceX making at least 12 flights to the International Space Station to deliver cargo. This past April, SpaceX received an additional contract from NASA to further the development of the Dragon to be able to carry astronauts to the space station. Although the original design of the spacecraft included the ability to be re-purposed from a cargo vehicle to a manned craft, additional work is needed on the design of the launch abort system. Unlike the towers on the nose of the craft as we saw on the Gemini and Apollo capsules and that proposed for the Orion, the Dragon???s system will be built into the craft. This will allow the system to be used not only in the event of a launch emergency, but permit its use in making soft landings on earth as well as extraterrestrial destinations. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, predicts the Dragon???s first manned flight will come as early as 2014. He goes on to point out that while the per-seat cost of delivering astronauts to the ISS on the Soyuz will be $63 million, it will drop dramatically to $20 million with the Dragon/Falcon 9 combo. Check out SpaceX at http://www.spacex.com/ and you will see that the end of the Space Shuttle is just the begining.

wcb111
wcb111

we are the only living people in the whole universe unless you feel like calling God a Liar but mankind in his rebellion spends his time and energy chasing his greedy idols, guess what this year is showtime the last 3.5yrs on mankind starts with the US,NEW Zealand and Australia getting wiped out don't like it too bad take up with "God"

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Interesting comment on the SpaceX site about the future of manned space flight. They already have a contract with NASA to provide transport to the ISS. He makes comments about how US portion of the Low Earth Orbit market has been declining until SpaceX came along and undercut all the prices. Interesting read. http://www.spacex.com/updates.php Bill

Domingo A. Trassens
Domingo A. Trassens

From our point of view, the stop the Shuttle mission without a better alternative is to put in the trash all the efforts that NASA made to open new human paths through the extraterrestrial space. The United States will lose ground in different ways: scientific, defense, security, industrial, and economic.

mtriner
mtriner

I agree that we are in need of a next generation space vehicle. I disagree with shutting down the system before a replacement is available. The government wants to get out of owning and operating low earth orbiters. Well, that's all we have. If they don't want to own and operate, then why are they still making astronauts? With all are marbles now in Russia's basket, we may have problems in the future with getting what we need up to the spae station. And after all, wasn't the space station a jumping off point for bigger and better things in space?

jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376

I think right now the US has more troubling issues then what will become of NASA. With unemployment going up and our deficit increasing. I think what we have gotten out of the space program is pretty much it for now. We don't have the technology for farther space exploration by man and we don't have any real reason to go there except for our curiosity. I think right now that should not be a priority.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Most people do not understand why America needs to have it own space ships. They can't see the advantages. The only way for the US to start manufacturing new space craft, is a war in space. They have the money. Last year the US spend more money on HVAC equipment in Afghanistan then funding NASA. "The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion. That???s more than NASA???s budget. It???s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It???s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia." http://offthebase.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/air-conditioning-in-afghanistan-and-iraq-costs-20-billion/

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

The space shuttle is the last vestige of NASA's poltical theater era, when big, showy, hideously inefficient and unsupportable technical projects were its bread and butter. It's Nixon-era tech -- literally -- strung along for all the same government inertia keep-the-contractors-happy idiocy that's bankrupting our treasury. Consider, the shuttle is a reusable spacecraft that isn't actually reusable, given that the SRBs and main fuel tank are either lost or nearly 100% refitted after launch. It's a construction platform for a spacestation that only needs a construction platform to assemble because it was badly designed by a lets-get-everyone-involved international consortium. It can retrieve cargo from orbit -- a task that no one wants or needs. And it can ferry crew and cargo to orbit simultaneously, which is actually a terrible idea as it's cheaper -- and far safer -- to send crew and cargo up separately on smaller, task-specific craft. The Progress cargo ships and modern Soyuz capsules are examples of this principle. Like most government projects, the shuttle looks good on camera and makes for great press, but is actually a terribly impractical and inefficient solution to a complicated set of problems. And don't get me started on how bad the ISS is at every task it's been assigned. Human spaceflight is 50 years old. We're past the "do it just to prove we can" stage. It's time to be grownups. It's time to build space technology that solves real problems in practical ways, rather than in ways that make contractors and photographers happy. We can achieve low earth orbit really easily and keep humans in that environment for months or years. We get it. We're good at it. Time to move on. If you want LEO cheaply, that's not what the government is good at. That's the job of the private sector. Government paves the way. The market makes it profitable. It's time for profitable LEO and human orbital habitation. NASA's job is to pave the way for the next level of hard stuff, and the next level is REALLY HARD. Where is my advanced asteroid detection and deflection system? That's a serious problem that NASA should be solving and isn't. Where is my proof-of-concept Helium3 extractor for the moon, which would give us a legitimate reason for going there? My methane-oxygen autofactory for Mars, which is required before we even think about sending humans in that direction? Where is my Lagrange-point automated telescope, which would make the Hubble look like a kids toy magnifying glass and actually require us to deal with serious, complex at-at-distance systems maintenance? Where is my FRAKKING SPACE ELEVATOR, which would actually be a serious surface-to-orbit gamechanger? NASA has better things to do than keeping 30-year-old tech around for nostalgic PR purposes. I, for one, am glad to see them putting away childish things and -- hopefully -- getting down to serious business.

judexy22
judexy22

History teaches us that Man often ends up somewhere on the time line !

gordon.rudd
gordon.rudd

Good points all! For me the question is much simpler. Space was a race for the U.S. because the Russians embarrassed the U.S. with their space program (Sputnik 1957, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin April, 1961) and in no small part because President Kennedy's cabinet feared Russian domination of space. So, why doesn't it embarrass us when we fall behind Russia or China? Where did our pride in innovation go? More troubling than a loss of national pride; unless U.S. military funding keeps the U.S. frosty in space, Houston, we have a problem. The best military on Earth still has to rule the sky to be effective. We have all seen how military funding can be crippled in a single budget cycle. Please tell me, the private sector or perhaps the Russian or the Chinese space programs aren't going to be the suppliers for the U.S. military...

hartkl
hartkl

We are going to have to rely on other countries to get us to space, just another job outsourced.

MeijerTSR
MeijerTSR

"So where is NASA headed? President Obama said on his Twitter town hall that NASA needs a new frontier." Yeah, a slow walk to being disbanded all together. Not by tomorow, not next month, but certianly within 2 years. The arguments; "We can spend more money on people at home" and "If they want something sent in space let them do it." So tell me, are you going to be glad that America used to be great?

tommy
tommy

Manned, as in MAN, a derivative of huMAN, a member of the species Homo Sapiens or all the members of this species collectively, without regard to sex. E.G. Prehistoric man. Nothing to do with being politically correct, sexist or misogynistic. Like what the Star Trek introduction was before the simpering PC brigade persuaded the producers to change it in 1987 for no good reason.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Even private individuals have had successful space launches. They may not be orbital yet, but neither was NASA at first. Hell - Dr. John Bull was even shooting projects into space in his HARP program years ago!

JCitizen
JCitizen

You beat me to it, and said it better! The fine folks at "AviationWeek and Space Technology" have made the US spooks uncomfortable more than once with close speculation and scrutiny of the facts leaking out of several 'black' programs NASA/Air Force has on board.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

You are right. It is far more interesting to hope and assume than know the facts. I wish I could go back to blissful ignorance, but as someone who was a space buff since the 70's (My dad took me to see that last Apollo launch), and someone who has spent over 20 years in the industry, I can tell you that we have done a lot of busy work, but not really advanced. Why do you think new capsule looks like an overgrown Apollo? Better yet, Wrangle some tickets to the National Space Symposium and have a real look at the tech behind it all. You will see stuff from the eighties with a lot of proud people behind it. I know it's all about tried and true, but It feels like you just hired an architect and he shows you something done with Crayons. You look up to see if it's a joke, and you see that he is so proud of the work he should have done in kindergarten. Why do you think they have laptops bungee corded to the flight and observation deck of the shuttle and ISS? Because it's the only equipment with a 21st century design on board. Google "how the west wasn't won" for a real eye opener on the internal workings of the mess. I think the solution is to let private industry take a whack at it.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

I'm in Aerospace as well as IT. There is nothing up NASA's sleeve. They cancelled every program before the full scale mock up.

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

All the whiners here need to get a grip. People need to read Space X's website.& learn about them.

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

The space station would be good stepping stone to Mars ...

BlazingEagle
BlazingEagle

The US is entirely capable of continuing space missions. In addition to solving our energy situation, America needs to sit it???s sights on a mission to Mars. America needs to get to Mars before another country inevitably beats us there. If we properly solve our energy problems, Any excess energy we might produce could be sold to other countries to help fund a US mission to Mars. America needs to regain it???s magnificence. America needs to regain it???s position as a grand yet positive world leader. We need to establish a base on the Moon as the staging point for a mission to Mars. Build a Moon base that a Mars mission can be launched from. This Moon base would allow us to develop technologies to help our astronauts survive the trip to & their stay on, Mars.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

We don't have the technology because we have not funded development. We don't have an economy which supports space flight because we have not commercially developed the resources there. We have unemployment woes because we outsource and ignore entire entire employment sectors because of an implied "Government Only" sign on them. Our deficit increases, not because of the less than 1% spent on NASA, but rather the 20% the DoD eats, which is closer to 57% if you account for all defence and war on X spending, where X is drugs, terror, commies, or whatever they're drumming up this week. Our need to go to space is not just curiosity. It comes down to need, both to maintain the services we rely upon, as well as to do the economic development we should have been doing at the end of Apollo. The problem is it may be too late. In truth, we'll spend more money trying to keep things working without our own vehicle than a program would have cost to come up with the next generation vehicle and bring it online before the shuttle was retired.

sboverie
sboverie

The return in new technology from space missions range from the computer you are using to stuff like teflon and medical instruments. Unemployment is going up as NASA is laying off people. The real reason to explore space is to learn more about the physics of space flight and to push the boundaries of what we know about the universe. Another reason to support NASA is that other countries are becoming space exploring nations; this includes China, Russia, India and even Iran. The lack of funding is more related to politics than practicality. Kennedy's speach stated that going to the moon was not easy but hard and this was a way to accomplish great things. The space missions 50 years ago were expensive but did pay back in new technology that we take for granted now.

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

You're telling me Nixon was such a giant that policies he made are still inviolable today, 40 years later?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Breaking down the sulphurous acid greenhouse in preparation.

JCitizen
JCitizen

You hit hard!! But you're right too!

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

The problem is that NASA has never gone beyond the "do it to prove you can do it" phase. One of the heaviest modifications to the shuttle was the camera systems and the communication to support it. Leave people in peace and trust them to get the job done. The other issue is that we, as a country, have become risk averse. You can't do anything new in any industry past the pretty picture stage without taking a risk. This is why the plans get cancelled before they crank down one bolt, yet they spend millions. When the shuttle returns, space will belong to the Russians. Soon after, given how much tonnage they are launching, it will belong to the Chinese. The only alternative is if private industry gets over themselves, gags the lawyers, blindfolds the insurance companies, and just makes it happen. This is the only way innovation happens, and with luck it will happen again.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

The Shuttle, although a huge technological achievement was a failure at its primary mission, which was supposedly cheap & reliable boost capability to earth orbit. In order to justify the expense to Congress, NASA convinced them that the Shuttle would be all things to everybody, even to the point of making it law that all US payloads would be designed to be launched via the Shuttle, and all alternative US launch capability phased out. The fatal flaw of that policy became glaringly clear when the Challenger grounded the program, and left all of the Shuttle's commercial and military customers scrambling for alternatives. After returning to flight status, military payloads were given priority, not that the commercial operators were that interested anymore, having found cheaper and quicker boost availabilities elsewhere. In order to give the Shuttle something to do to justify its existence, we got the ISS and Hubble. Both are consigned to low earth orbit which hinder their supposed missions simply because the Shuttle is incapable of lifting worthwhile payloads any higher. When all was said and done, a Shuttle mission averaged roughly $1-billion each. For that price, we could have gone on building disposable Saturn Vs indefinitely, and boosted much heavier payloads much higher for much less. If there's an upside to any of this, it's the lesson that NASA had no business being in the commercial launch business. The problem is what to do next? The kind of political drive that lead NASA during the '60s is long gone. There's little impetus, focus or direction. The Administration's goals for NASA are between silly and pathetic. Even if there was a solid goal, (Moon/Mars/anything) Congress is incapable of committing to a long-term stable funding plan like they did for Apollo. In fact, they're at least half-responsible for the Shuttle program being as sad as it really was.

JCitizen
JCitizen

to truly promote and protect native innovation in the US; despite the rhetoric in DC. This is why we are going down the proverbial pooper.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...is seen as being about community organizing instead of space exploration or hard science. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlcNUq77_LM If this is to be the new direction for NASA, I'd suggest we just pull the plug and save the money we don't have.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Seems there is some controversy about just what kind of polar spin Venus has. I read so many lies and misinformation, that I might as well call NASA directly to find out for sure!

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