Many of us grew up with the notion that the United States would be the leader in space exploration, and that no other country would surpass in the technology.
For fifty years we were the masters of the universe. Now we have passed on that honor to our former Russian rivals.
Some saw NASA as only a manned space program of curiosity, missing the totality of what NASA is tasked to do.
Many don't realize how fragile our planet really is, and how its days are numbered. With humanity's population continuing to grow, with pollution and disasters mounting, our world is coming to an end. And this has nothing to do with conspiracy theory. This is cold, hard reality.
No matter if this planet has ten, a hundred or a thousand years left, mankind must look for a new home. And God forbid the worst case scenario, this might become necessity sooner than we want to believe. The survival of humanity depends on it.
To leave the survival of mankind to the Russians, to me seems irresponsible. Russia is in more turmoil and uncertainty than even the United States. How can we leave the survival of man in the hands of the communists?
Had anybody said this twenty years ago they would have been declared insane!
Until we had at least one working replacement for the space shuttles, we should have kept at least one of the space shuttles ready for blast off!
Apparently the American public wants the U.S. to continue to be a space leader, too. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans think it's essential the nation continue as a leader in space.
For many at the NASA this is a bitter pill to swallow as well. According to SpaceflightNow.com,
In the near term, "we're going to have a reverse brain drain," [Michael Griffin, former NASA administrator and architect of the Bush administrations moon program], told CBS News. "It used to be that people came from other places and other industries to work in the space program because of what it meant and what it was. And as it goes away, we're going to lose those people because talented folks go where there are tough problems. And that's not going to be good for the country."
Griffin's concerns are shared by many critics of the Obama administrations' plan to retire the shuttles. The administration has also canceled the Constellation program (the moon program devised by the Bush administration), tasked the commercial space industry with developing new low Earth orbit transportation systems, and asked NASA to build a heavy-lift rocket for trips to an asteroid, the moon, and eventually Mars.
Speaking at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently, President Obama attempted to fill in the details of his new vision for NASA, even identifying the solar system destinations he foresees mankind visiting in the next thirty years.
"By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space," he said, starting with a mission to a near-Earth asteroid. "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it," the president added.
Then why couldn't we keep one of the shuttles on standby until this supposed "new spacecraft designed for long journeys" is reality? What would it have hurt to have one of our shuttles ready for emergencies? Or, ready in case the next president changes policy again?
Former astronauts, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and Jim Lovell, believe NASA should keep flying the shuttles. They believe that an agency without a backup system for getting into space and bringing astronauts home is a violation of one of NASA's critical design criteria, the astronauts told the Associated Press. Armstrong and Lovell were so upset, that they wrote a letter to the Obama administration saying an end to the shuttle program was a terrible mistake,
Glenn said he doesn't disagree with Obama's plans, although he said he believes private spaceflight will take years longer than [NASA administrator Charles] Bolden predicts. What Glenn objects to is the gap between the shuttle and a future spacecraft. While the Soyuz is reliable, Glenn said NASA should always want an alternative in case of a "hiccup" in the Soyuz plans.
"Throughout the history of the manned spaceflight program we've always had another program to transition into [...] we had that and it got canceled and we don't have anything," launch manager Leinbach told his fellow workers at Kennedy Space Center. "Frankly as a senior NASA manager I would like to apologize that we don't have that."
For a reality check, check out a video of Atlantis’ landing from its last mission below.
Space Shuttle Atlantis, the last orbiter to fly as part of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, successfully landed in Florida at at 5:56 a.m. ET. In its final voyage, the Atlantis flew with a reduced crew of four, bringing supplies to the International Space Station. Since its first flight in 1985, the Atlantis orbited the Earth more than 4,800 times and traveled more than 120 million miles in space.
What Good Reason is there for Retiring the Space Shuttles?
After watching the perfect (last) landing of Atlantis, above, don't you wonder why they are retiring a perfectly capable spacecraft without something to take its place waiting in a hanger somewhere?
Have they really retired the shuttle program simply because most of the vehicles are old, and have extensive wear and tear, like they claim? They claim that, "the end of this era of manned space flights does not mean we have ended our "manned" exploration of space. We must, by necessity, continue to explore space, the planets near us." So why don't they?
I envy those who will travel into space. I envy those people who will witness the first colony on Mars.
The future is not all bad, according to NASA administrator Bolden. During a press conference at Kennedy Space Center held on July 7, according to Space.com,
"Private spaceflight firms will pick up NASA's slack before too long, ferrying humans to low-Earth orbit and back relatively cheaply and efficiently," said Bolden. "And handing off that taxi service to commercial companies, will free the space agency up to do what it was meant to do: explore further afield in our solar system. So the nation is not abandoning human spaceflight, despite a pervasive public perception to the contrary, he said.
NASA is pouring money into the commercial industry while still hammering out a design for a heavy-lift rocket. David Mindell, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, told me in an interview last week that there is a lot of anxiety about the ending of the shuttle program and part of the problem is that NASA's leadership is not doing a good job at articulating clearly to congress and the public what they are trying to do.
Mindell believes that it is time for the shuttles to retire because "we can't afford two space programs." He adds that the shuttle became an unambitious program, while a lot of other exciting things are happening in commercial spaceflight. "SpaceX is doing things NASA tried to do at one-third the cost; private space will deliver something," he said.
A detailed plan for NASA's future will become clearer when Congress releases the agency's 2012 budget. However, according to Mindell, the fundamental question that NASA needs to answer is, "why send people at all?"
Come on Mindell, get a life! Use your imagination. Dream a little. Then you'll have your answer.
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Written By: Tom Retterbush