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…