By Ben Moon, Manager of Space and Technology
If you take a look at NASA’s proposed budget over the next 3 years years, you’ll see several things that stand out.
1. We’re retiring the Space Shuttles and sending them to museums.
2. We’re not going back to the Earth’s moon.
3. We’ve got nothing to take people into space immediately after the Shuttles retire.
Things are up in the air right now (no pun intended) as Washington and lawmakers battle over NASA’s Constellation program (which was going to replace the Shuttles with the Ares rockets) to try to save it or scrap it completely in favor of private industry taking over America’s push into space.
Some disagree with the changes the current administration is proposing and believe that NASA needs a clear, stated target and not a nebulous “further into space” idea. Some argue that it’s the right move, that Constellation was over budget and behind schedule, that private industry is what space exploration needs, and that the new plan is a game changer, not unlike the moon race of the 1960’s.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said during a February NASA budget press conference that federal funding for near-term robotic missions “will pave the way for later human exploration of the moon, Mars and nearby asteroids.” Notice he used the word “later,” meaning the U.S. won’t be sending any Americans up on American-made spacecraft for the next few years.
Meanwhile other countries are still sending people into space. The Russians and Chinese are sending people into space on their Soyuz rockets and Long March rockets respectively. It’s a possibility that Americans may rent a ride on Soyuz rockets, but the Russians have already begun increasing the cost to do so dramatically.
So as the battle plays out, only time will tell exactly what the landscape of U.S. manned space flight will look like.
NASA’s vision has been “To understand and protect our home planet, To explore the Universe and search for life, and To inspire the next generation of explorers... as only NASA can. But let’s say you want to go into space now and don’t want to wait on NASA or congress or anybody. Well, there may actually be hope for you.
There are some private companies that are about to begin sending people into space, for different reasons than NASA. For the company XCOR Aerospace, its vision is the “dream of spaceflight for its founders who recognize that the only way for them to get to space is to make it affordable for private citizens.” For the company SpaceX, the goal is “revolutionizing the cost and reliability of access to space.” Virgin Galactic seeks to lead the industry of “space tourism.” Whatever the reasons may be, these pursuits are good for the industry as a whole.
For a private company, the bottom line is one of the biggest concerns. They don’t want to waste money on unnecessary pursuits or time, and certainly not mission anomalies (accidents). They take their work very seriously and this work could pave the way for new scientific discovery and better ways of doing things. It’s time they got their piece of the pie.So what does the immediate future of U.S. manned spaceflight look like? Possibly something like this:
Tell us what you think....