Space Shuttle Fleet Grounded Permanently

The Space Shuttle Atlantis landed successfully this morning, ending the program.  It’s next journey will be to a museum somewhere or something.

Now is the time to reflect on the past results of discovery in this country and around the world.

Thomas Jefferson was a visionary man who arranged the Lewis and Clark expedition. The goal was to discover the North-West Passage, but such a passage did not exist the way the people of that time envisioned it and so that part of the endeavor failed. Plus, the expedition failed to publish their findings on the areas west of the Mandan Indian villages until after those findings no longer mattered. But the science that they sent back down the river from those Indian villages, before moving on to the second leg of their journey launched the huge pre-1830 Fur Trade industry that helped build this nation.  On their way home from the wilderness, they met the first commercial fur-trappers heading in.

John Wesley Powell explored the Colorado River Basin, opening that area for use which indirectly resulted in a source of power and water that made it possible to tame that entire region. People living in population centers in California and Arizona and other places benefit from Lake Powell today.

The California Gold Rush triggered the total population of the West coast and yielded far more wealth in agriculture and other industries than it ever did in gold.

I live on the Old Lincoln Highway, which was forged by a military expedition to test the country’s ability to move equipment and personell across the country in the event of a foreign invasion.  Now, many standard roads and downtown main throurofares (like here in Evanston) lie along that route.

My point is that sustainability of space-related projects like the Shuttle program aren’t the issue, but rather the goal we should chase is direct exploration and discovery of commercial space-related endeavors. Without them, sustainability isn’t possible…with them the sustainability problems currently plaguing our efforts will evaporate on their own.

Of course, we have to keep folks looking, and we have to continue to grow and maintain our space-faring technologies for when those incentives are found. For the time being, space tourism does both of these things, but only in the short-term. I think space tourism is a fad that can run itself out if lower cost-to-orbit doesn’t continue to progress and human spaceflight doesn’t expand outside of low-Earth orbit soon.

Further, all of us space enthusiasts must continue to beat the drum of spin-off technologies! In particular, I refer to those innovation paths in the spin-off database that have yielded products that everyone uses every day and that would not have occurred if someone hadn’t been trying to design something for use in space. We must never let the public forget those things and never, ever let the NASA critics bury them!  I am of the opinion that the spin-off benefits of the Apollo missions beating the Soviet Union to the moon put the United States at the top of the heap in technical and economic infrastructure, won the cold-war, and indirectly defeated communism in Russia.

I am also of the opinion that China and India are now poised to do the same thing to us, by beating us back to the moon and to Mars.

Like with the Gold Rush, the destination of space is not where all the gold is…most of it will be found among the stones along the path.

~ by Bill Housley on July 21, 2011.

4 Responses to “Space Shuttle Fleet Grounded Permanently”

  1. Despite the economic problems facing both individuals and our governments ability to stay open, there are still a number of worthwhile exploratory missions in development. Please don’t use the old “lewis and Clark” example. Using massive amounts of money to look for a “new frontier” went out of vogue decades ago. Space exploration has no equivalent here on Earth…ever.
    The shuttle was a financial and operational disaster. My NASA manifest from 1981 lists a minimum of 40 flight opportunities a year. Over-sold and way-under delivered…NASA’s fixation was on the “how” and not the “why”.
    Until we identify a clear commercial product or service that can ONLY be pursued in the zero-gravity environment, there will be no “commercial Space’. this does not mean that we can’t extend our reach onto the near planets and beyond.
    Everything has a beginning and an end. There should be pride in the engineering behind the shuttle, but no tears should be shed for it’s passing. we will find other ways to continue our exploration.

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