Atlantis is in orbit. I sat at my desk and watched it rise on its glorious fountain of fire yesterday morning, as has been my habit. (Ever since Columbia went up for the first time, the day after my tenth birthday, I haven’t generally missed space shuttle launches and landings.)
Nevertheless, I am trying to remain optimistic that the best space exploration I’ll see in my lifetime is still to come.
I have written here before about the romance of manned spaceflight, and how that romance inoculates it against some rational analysis. We send people because it’s cool to send people, and that’s enough.
I am sympathetic to a number of the criticisms falling to many lips right now. I am and shall remain a fan of NASA, but it’s difficult to argue that the NASA that went from agency inception to “one small step for (a) man” in just under eleven years is anything like the NASA of today. I appreciate that.
However, I don’t know how to find it anything but shameful that as a nation, we have established interests in orbit, and then left ourselves no way to tend to them without paying other countries. That was preventable, and its avoidance should have been pursued much more vigorously. I hope it’s ultimately a minor blip on the timeline of America in space.
Rand Simberg had a good, mostly non-snarky piece yesterday on where things need to go (indeed, are going) next. It’s a fantasy to say government will get out of space entirely, and if you doubt that, then consider the substantial military interests there, if nothing else. I do hope this is the beginning of a new era in which private industry takes exciting leads, and we ultimately see developmental acceleration of the really cool stuff. There is nothing like genuine, market-driven competition.
That sleek spaceplane in 2001: A Space Odyssey did say Pan Am on it, after all.