NASA just signed a deal with Russian for almost one half billion dollars to launch astronauts to the space station, 424 million to be exact. This deal will assure we can get to the International Space Station in 2016 and have emergency support in 2017. How thrilling….. If you were not alive in the 1960’s to hear it first hand, you must have heard the John Kennedy Moon speech at some point. In that speech before a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, he stated we would go to the Moon before the end of the decade. To think we have allowed our capability to digress from that to having the lofty goal 40 years later of being able to send a man into low earth orbit in four years is rather…well…pathetic.
We have done some exciting things, landing a rover on Mars, exciting discoveries of possible Earth like planets by Kepler and more. But on the other hand we have fallen woefully behind in our manned space program and have taken giant steps backwards. The retirement of the space shuttle without any U.S. replacement capability was a sobering reality check. NASA’s heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System has a price tag of 41 billion dollars and will not be ready until 2030…yes 2030, 27 years from now. That long to build the basic equivalent of a rocket we built in the 1960’s in 8 years. We wont even go into the failed Constellation ARES Rocket and the time and money spent on it.
Hopefully in 2017 we accomplish this lofty goal and are once again are on a par with countries like China, able to place man in space on our own. Of course getting out of low Earth orbit may not happen in most of our life times at this rate, but we can dream. Maybe China will blaze the path for us.
Robots can do great things but man was meant to explore, we cannot allow a further degradation of our capability. Perhaps it is a sign of something more significant about the United States that either a lack of pride, ability, or desire has permitted this to happen. But people do still care. How that interest can be turned into something more tangible seems to have eluded NASA, perhaps that is something that they need to look at.