Saturday, July 9, 2011

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume III, Issue XXVIII

The "other" weekly news magazine this week writes about "the Future of Fish" as an era ends. The last American manned space flight lifted off Friday. As of the time it lands there will be, for the first time in decades, no American manned space capablility.

For the first time since the early 'sixties,' Russia will have manned flight capability and we will not. Some feel that private enterprise will rise to fill the vacuum. I hope it does. Steven Andrew writes:

"Earlier this year, President Obama announced that NASA will continue its core mission of manned and unmanned space exploration, but that private companies will manufacture a growing share of its spacecraft. The NASA authorization bill, S. 3729, officially clears NASA to support the development of commercial spacecraft. Obama's space plan tasks NASA to draw on commercial space vehicles to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

The decision is expected to spawn a new industry, much like the early days of aviation, which now adds billions of dollars to the U.S. economy every year. This marriage between NASA and private enterprise -- which insiders refer to as "NewSpace" -- will put more people and payloads into orbit in the next ten years than in the last half century. Synthesizing the latest literature on space exploration and drawing on interviews with the new industry's key players, NewSpace offers a complete portrait of this partnership between private enterprise and visionary government policy."

My impression, however was that the President was cutting the next generation of space vehicle development entirely. NASA seem poised in all actuallity to become mostly a 'global warming' advocacy group and an 'outreach to Muslims.'

NASA's mission began in the wake of a string of Soviet space successes, Sputnik and the launch of Yuri Gagarin among them. President Kennedy's call to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to earth was a clear message that America would not be left behind.

The brilliance of NASA, in my thinking, is that it took space exploration away from a strictly military program and made it a civilian agency. The lofty ideal of peaceful exploration was in the forefront, while the military necessity was never forgotten.

Ironically, when the current shuttle mission lands, we will have no manned launch capability and will have to buy space on Soviet spacecraft.

The high costs of space missions and the relatively modest prospects of financial return have pretty much discouraged the large scale privatization of space. Commerce, you may remember, is what drove much of the exploration of the new world. Still, plans to harvest solar energy from orbital platforms and other projects might yet drive private initiative. There are a few extremely wealthy individuals who are willing to pay for a ride into orbit. The gold of the New World just doesn't seem to be within reach to drive regular and economical access to space yet.

In the distant future, colonization of Mars might be a possibility, but it seems the environmental manipulation necessary for such a move might prove prohibitive. Converting our own planet from a carbon fuel driven economy to a hydrogen driven one might be more economical in the long run.

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