What is our goal?

I’ve been thinking about what the next several months mean to the space program. The Space Shuttle program is ending in 2011. I’ve been trying to reconcile whether we as a nation will be able to capitalize on this opportunity or whether we are really just taking a large step backward.

When our missions to the moon were ended in 1972, we had a plan going forward. We were aiming for the Space Shuttle, some didn’t like the plan, but there was one. Even after the lunar missions ended, we sent men to space. In 1973 and 1974, three missions went  to Skylab, where we continued the art of on orbit fixes. In 1975, the Apollo-Soyuz test project flew, marking the first international cooperation in space. The shuttle was supposed to launch a mere three years later, in 1978. Even with the delay to 1981, we were working toward something specific.

Next year, after the last shuttle mission, we won’t be working towards anything. We will be adrift, looking for something to make our goal. I recently read Wayne Hale’s blog post called “Chasing Augustine” in which he gives his perspective on the august sounding “Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee” (otherwise known as the 2009 Augustine Committee). The stated goal of this committee was to ensure the nation is on “a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space.” Unfortunately, in Mr. Hale’s perspective, the study was rigged from the start and really shows what happens when a pre-determined outcome affects the study process.

So we don’t have anything but a vague goal that was created by a committee that some say had a pre determined outcome. Where does this leave us? That’s a good question. What is our plan?

Well, we’re going to get to mars orbit by 2030 or so…


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2 responses to “What is our goal?

  1. Jimmy

    This might come across as a little crass, but I wonder if the money spent on human spaceflight at this point would be better spent on a larger range of robotic probes. The wide variety of unmanned missions to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (among others) have amply demonstrated the utility of these missions for gathering high-value scientific data about our solar system.

    • Jimmy,

      I don’t think that’s a crass statement at all. It represents a feeling that a lot of people have. With that said, I don’t think that a robotic ONLY space program is a viable option for our nation. Our current robotic space program sends home vast amounts of data which has tremendous scientific value, without a doubt. However sending a robot to Mars or the moon doesn’t have the same power to rally people or create interest that sending a human to those places does.

      You and I weren’t around for it, but the landing of a human on the brought the world together. The feeling wasn’t, “The Americans got to the moon.” It was, “We, the human race got to the moon.” Imagine how exciting and amazing it would be to watch a human walk on Mars LIVE (delayed by 3 minutes). We’ve sent several robots to mars, Spirit and opportunity are on 90-day missions that are going on 6 years now, but the average member of the public doesn’t know or care. Heck, we have probes which are light hours away from earth, but beisdes the 11,000 or so who are signed up for the Voyager2 twitter feed, not many people know or care.

      In my mind, human spaceflight has value far beyond its scientific value and should be continued.

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