Yesterday the DC area was treated to the spectacle of the Space Shettle Discovery taking its final journey, being ferried from the Kennedy Space Center to Dulles Airport in anticipation of it ending up at is final resting place in Northern Virginia. Many area folks looked out in wide wonder of the Space Shuttle, as the shuttle program was the last in our direct links to NASA-supported manned spaceflight, stretching from Alan Shepard’s flight aboard Freedom 7, to the Apollo project, to the International Space Station. Man’s journeys to outer space culminated with the ambitious shuttle project.
A lot of conservatives took the opportunity for this flight yesterday to bemoan the plight of NASA under the Obama Administration, insinuating the the Administration was turning its back on centuries of progress by Western Civilization on pulling the plug on the Space Shuttle Program. However that’s the wrong reaction entirely. Because NASA needs to get out of the manned space flight business.
We are blessed in this country, despite what you might be led to believe, with an abundance of ingenuity and capital. Folks who can take a risk and lead us toward greater leaps in technology at reduced costs. The privatization of space is nothing new. NASA has been looking at privatizing its cargo and astronauts delivery systems for at least five years.Any number of companies are engaging in the human spaceflight business, whether it be as government customers or as totally private ventures in order to increase space tourism. Just take a look at the number of private spaceflight ventures that are in the space business. And these are serious ventures, from Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic concept to shuttle tourists into space down to all of the projects being conducted by Space X. We’re talking about serious people, doing serious things, at a serious discount of time and money when compared to similar projects by NASA.
That is not to say that government does not have an integral role in space flight and research. NASA still has a tremendous role in research and exploration of distant areas that are no cost affordable to private space flight, as conducted here in Maryland from Goddard Space Flight Center. And of course, there are military applications to spaceflight which cannot or will not be able to be contracted out. But the preponderance of our space flight can and should be undertaken by the private sector.
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Later this month, a Space X Dragon capsule is tentatively scheduled to become the first privately operated spacecraft to fly to the International Space Station. This is going to be a great leap forward in our ability to deliver people and things to low Earth orbit in a safe and affordable manner.
We shouldn’t be bemoaning the passing of the era of manned spaceflight. Because manned spaceflight is just getting started.