Russia now is the primary sponsor of manned space-flight. NASA will refocus on unmanned exploration -- robots in space. And, of course, there's U.S. private sector programs for launch vehicles and, some years away, passenger service.
James Lileks mourns the death of the dream:
[T]here’s a general cultural anomie that seems content to watch movies about people in space, but indifferent to any plans to put them there. This makes me grind my teeth down to the roots, but I suppose that’s a standard reaction when the rest of your fellow citizenry doesn’t share the precise and exact parameters of your interests and concerns. That’s the problem when you grow up with magazines telling you where we’re going after the moon, with grade-school notebooks that had pictures of the space stations to come, when the push to Mars was regarded as an inevitable next step. . .Characteristically, Lileks is realistic:
I can see the reason for taking our time -- develop new engines, perfect technology, gather the money and the will. It’s not like anything’s going anywhere. But it’s not like we’re going anywhere if we’re not going anywhere, either -- when nations, cultures stop exploring, it’s a bad sign. You’re ceding the future.
Just got hung up on the "why?" part, it seems. Also the "how" and the "how much" and other details.What to think about the end of NASA's maned space operations?
Like Likeks, I grew up romancing the Right Stuff. (Early in my career, orbital colony proponent Gerard O’Neill was a client.) So, in some ways, this moment feels like a Frederick Jackson Turner death of the frontier. Does this mean the decline of American dynamism?
No. NASA still has a role to play in robotic space exploration. But, mostly, the problem with NASA's space program isn't space but NASA itself. Not, as a New York Times op-ed argues, because NASA was part of the "military-industrial complex" born in the cauldron of the Cold War, but because NASA typifies "big government." Plainly, big government demands big budgets--and isn't ideal for innovation. Think of "green jobs." Or even safety. Government may be essential at first (and I'm all for piggy-backing on military needs -- think GPS), but private sector competition can best respond to technical challenges.
Six years ago, I said this:
So let's prime the pump. Terminate all NASA's current missions, and redirect their efforts to an unmanned-Mars lander. That lander would carry a tiny payload--an unconditional note issued by the United States promising to pay the bearer $20 billion. Upon the successful Mars touchdown, NASA would publish a detailed map of the landing site--and then close. No more federal budget, no more agency. Just a potential future liability.The only thing I'd change today: given our budgetary woes, make it a certified check.
It worked for longitude--why not similarly jump-start the technological innovation necessary to get to Mars?
(via Ed Driscoll)