Saturday, August 11, 2007
The Future of Space Exploration
STS-118 is in orbit! After a beautiful, on time and nearly flawless countdown, Endeavour roared into space at about 6:36 EDT on August 8th. I was doing the live CNN coverage with Miles O'Brien.
Now that the crew is in orbit, I've been reflecting on the future of space exploration. There are fourteen shuttle missions left on the roster before the scheduled decommissioning of the space shuttle fleet, in 2010. What's next? The new NASA spacecraft, dubbed the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and named Orion, is due to fly no sooner than 2014. It is over 5000 pounds overweight and I hear that the toilet has already been deleted, as well as some of the radiation shielding, in order to cut down on the weight. The Ares 1 rocket is also having significant design issues and the Associate Director for Spaceflight, Scott "Doc" Horowitz, who is the main proponent of what has come to be called the "Scotty Rocket" has announced that he will leave NASA in the next few months.
Add to that the fact that we will elect a new President very soon. No matter who wins, something is bound to change. Will Mike Griffin still be administrator? He has pretty much ensured that the shuttle program cannot be restarted without significant costs, in order to leave no alternate path to the one that NASA is going down. Is the US finished in government space programs?
The wild card is the commercial sector. There are a lot of private companies trying to do manned spaceflight. Some are credible, others much less so. There have been many false starts along these lines in the past. This time, it seems that the critical mass is here, with the advent of SpaceShipOne in September of 2004.
Is the future of spaceflight going to be in the private sector? Send me your thoughts!