The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Opinion Piece, "Requiem for a Spaceship" Presents a Darker Future for NASA Than Is Sensible Given Its History: NASA Heavy Lift

On Monday, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post provided a litany of laments for the American space program as Shuttle Discovery was retired. He stated the mothballing of the shuttle fleet was a sign of American decline as we timidly backed away from the high frontier. Well, not quite. We are in the awkward tween years, that disappointing time when one system is set aside and another is developed. The last time this happened, between Apollo (cancelled too soon) and the shuttle program, the lapse ran for nine long years. This down time occurs largely because politicians who control the purse strings and their constituents back home are unwilling to run two programs concurrently or to allow them to overlap. Such a generous budget has never been provided for NASA, despite the job opportunities such budgeting would provide and the retention of valuable, skilled, knowledgeable employees it would allow the agency to retain. That is a sad fact, but it is hardly a backing away from a future in human spaceflight for the United States, as the commentator implies.

With the cancellation of the Constellation program in 2010 (already over budget, but angering for those who voted for the President and are huge supporters of human spaceflight), the program shifted to a somewhat nebulous goal, that is true. But it did not see the end of heavy lift spacecraft development as the above video shows. The commentator does make a good point in stating that the chances of success depend largely on Congress's continued funding and the support of future presidents, so the end point is uncertain. Such is always the case for NASA however and great things have been and will continue to be accomplished.

This commentator dismisses out of hand the idea that private industry can create and operate a system complex enough to return humanity to space themselves. However, SpaceX is a few weeks away (a week-long delay has just been announced to complete testing on docking programming) from launching their Dragon space capsule to the International Space Station. This capsule is capable of delivering supplies. It is also designed to carry a maximum crew of 7 into space and is intended to leave low earth orbit, a trick to shuttles, for all their sophistication, could not accomplish.

Yes, we have lost jobs with the closing of the shuttle program. But, there are crews at Boeing creating the future crew capsule for NASA and others working out the components for the heavy lift rocket to take it deeper into space than we have gone before.

Have we ceded the Moon to the Chinese, as the author of this article states? Not necessarily. Only time will tell. There has been strong push back against leaving the moon behind. Politicians may yet change their minds and the new rocket system, capable of reaching asteroids, will certainly be capable to returning to the moon.

Yes we are in the painful, troublesome in between years. But with private industry and NASA both striving the create crew capable craft, it may be that we won't have to wait 9 years to see American rocketry take us back to the high frontier. I don't think we have to be quite so pessimistic as the commentator would have us believe we should be.

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