Wednesday, September 3, 2008

NASA to extend Space Shuttle life?

The space shuttle started out as a novel concept-a reusable spacecraft-but ended up being relatively unsafe and basically a waste of money in a dead end space program that lacks any vision.

In recent years, the Bush administration, in one of the few good things its done-put the brakes on the space shuttle with the announcement of the "constellation" program. In addition to setting a goal of returning humans to the moon, constellation aims to replace the space shuttle. I say great idea. The space shuttle is too complicated, its out of date, and its a huge waste of money. I used to hear stupid arguments from people I knew that worked at NASA that we MUST keep the space shuttle going to keep humans in space. I don't think that follows. Being against the shuttle doesn't mean you're against humans flying in space. It means your against wasting huge amounts of money to fly people around and around and around in orbit.

I once heard that each shuttle mission costs in the neighborhood of $600 million. Are you kidding me? What if we had taken all that money starting say 10 years ago and put it into a moon program. If we had, instead of insisting on continuing to develop the "international space station", a tin can in the sky, we would be well along the way to sending humans back to the moon.

Well one thing about government programs is they never go as planned, at least in the United States. It looks like NASA's planned retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 may be put on the shelf. One concern is deteriorating relations with Russia. There seems to be some concern that reliance on the Russians for space flights to the international space station could be risky business. A group of senators, including Presidential hopeful John McCain, urged NASA to hold off on a final decision about retiring the shuttle for at least another year. Further complicating matters, the Orion space ship, which looks quite a bit like Apollo in drawings I've seen, won't be ready until 2015. Well that is the projection. Since the US government is involved, I would say 2018 is a more realistic date. Or maybe they'll wait until say 2014, after billions have been spent on it, and cancel the program. Remember the superconducting super collider? Instead of letting the U.S. hold onto the lead in particle physics congress spent billions shutting down the program after billions had already been spent starting to construct it. Government has already set a precedence in willingness to do stupid stuff like that, so why not cancel Orion at the last minute?

I for one say good riddance to the space shuttle and the space station. I'm not against space exploration, in fact I'm all for it. But lets be real about it. Set real concrete goals that get people and missions out in space instead of doing endless studies on weightlessness in a tin can.

Regardless of your point of view, you can read the article on BBC news here.

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