Atlantis departed this rock for the final time today, and I was somewhat surprised that it did. On the one hand I knew this was a big deal for NASA that the final mission go off without a hitch, but with bad weather looming I was surprised the safety paranoia didn’t take over. While I am sad that the shuttle program is ending, I’m not as optimistic as Phil Plait that this isn’t the end. I’m really quite mad at our leader’s short sightedness when it comes to the space program. We don’t have a reusable launch platform, a replacement for the shuttle was never completed (several times), and now the funding for the James Webb Space Telescope is nearly doomed, and now it’s possible that NASA itself is on the chopping block.
For heaven’s sake, it the year 2010. We should be rescuing Hal. We should have a colony on the moon. We should be in the golden era of a global space age, not the end of the American one. Warren Ellis summed this up best: “keeping all your breeding pairs in one place is a retarded way to run a species”. I whole heartily agree. We belong out there: for the challenge, for the adventure, for the preservation of the species.
While I love what Armadillo, Space-X, Virgin Galactic, and the other front-runners in the Private Space Race are doing, and doing well, it’s a time-warp. It’s re-learning the science of the 1960s and 1970s, and I don’t blame them for that. We set the bar high with the shuttle, and then backed down. Sure it was flawed, imperfect, and not entirely reliable – but we have twenty years of data on how to move forward. It’s going to take the money and resources of a world power to move human space flight forward, commercial enterprises cannot be expected to do that. Commercial enterprises are designed to make money, some are trying to push the envelope but they can only go so far. Even the biggest names don’t have the resources available to them that a government wastes in a single pointless skirmish in a desert.
I’m mad, and disappointed. It’s a shame the next several generations of children won’t have the role models of American Astronauts pushing the envelope to look up to and inspire them. It’s a shame I can never fulfill my dream of becoming one of them as well.