It is difficult to fathom what has happened to our space program. Yesterday, with the landing of Shuttle Atlantis, the United States no longer has a manned space flight program.
Many of us are truly appalled.
For the first time since the flight of Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961, America does not have the ability to put a man in space. We now must depend on the “generosity” of the Russians to take care of our space travel requirements. The common understanding is the Russians are more than happy to oblige–on their schedule and with a very substantial price markup.
According to the Wall Street Journal of July 7, 2011, Russia has increased the price of fares to the International Space Station (ISS) for U.S. astronauts eight times since the announcement of the end of the Shuttle Program. With planned increases in the price, it will cost the U.S. $63 million for each seat on a Russian craft by the year 2016.
Many believe this situation seems to be the result of a failure of common sense.
There are serious national security implications along this path we now find ourselves traveling. Yes, we live in a more secure time, a more peaceful world, but there are no guarantees it will stay the same for any length of time. The dangerous thing about this situation is the time it would take to “ramp up” the program again, if it is needed.
Starting now, we have no vehicles with which to depart earth to travel into space. If there were an emergency on board the ISS, we will lack the ability to rescue anyone in trouble on the station. It is one thing to have a Shuttle somewhat ready at the cape; it is altogether something else to have none at all.
Another thing we will not have is further exploration of the universe. Somehow, our inability to explore is akin to some nameless entity locking us in a very dark closet.
This inability to explore is not in our nature. We have naturally always looked beyond the horizon, across the shores, into the depths of the seas, and into the skies and beyond. For these explorations, we have become a richer people. We have learned things about where we live, about his blue-green marble rotating around the fiery sun, and about the universe of which we are a part.
We would never have learned any of this had we not ventured out to explore. Indeed, half of our population would probably still maintain the earth is flat, were they not able to see photographs of our globe from outer space.
Somehow, the end of manned space exploration really seems improper. Many believe ending the space program is a big mistake; it will take massive efforts to restart the program. Momentum will have been lost and we are going to have to drop back a decade or two to play catch-up to continue our exploration of the heavens.
I cannot help but believe this is something we will all regret in the near future.
©2011 J. Clark
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