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Dawn of the Real Space Age

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As the Space Shuttle program draws to a close, media outlets and enthusiasts are mourning what some see as the decline of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and America’s manned space exploration program. Thousands are being laid off at NASA and affiliate suppliers, and it seems destined that the USA will surrender its leading role at the cutting age of science and technology. Don’t be so sure.

The future of manned space travel hasn’t yet come into sharp focus – but activity in the private sector increasingly suggests that while NASA’s manned space program may be winding down for the foreseeable future, private visionaries may be ushering a new Space Age that will rapidly expand human presence in space beyond anything that might now seem plausible.

The most well-known commercial space program at the moment is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Within the next few years, Virgin ferry passengers into space for a short ($200,000) ride. True, it will be a plaything for the very wealthy – but the success of this program, and the pioneering technology that’s making it happen, will also serve as a proof-of-concept demonstration that could encourage a renaissance of interest and investment in the commercial development of space. Branson’s stated dream is to bring space to all.

Increasingly affordable access to space will finally make feasible the heady fantasy of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey – including the rotating space station and it’s Hilton Hotel and commercial airline access. What seemed like a silly fantasy just a few years ago may be closer to reality than we think. Even individual entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to travel into orbit to develop and test technologies that will further space-based technology.

Will science be shunted aside with the commercialization of space? Low cost access to space means that the cost of exploration will allow many more scientists and explorers to venture into space than was ever possible during the Space Shuttle era. Just as Earth-bound exploration is often funded by foundations, non-profits, commercial and government partnerships, the same will evolve beyond earth. NASA, and it’s affiliated Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will benefit from this ease of access, and enter an age when some of the grand dreams of the space program will finally become a reality.

As a small boy, I had to opportunity to see the Apollo 11 astronauts land on the moon. I watched the spectacular images of 2001 and saw them not simply as science fiction, but as a sacred prediction of our inevitable future.

While our dreams may have been delayed, they may very well become reality – sooner than we think.

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  • Glenn Contrarian

    Say goodbye to America’s supremacy in space, since – rather than give up corporate subsidies – the Republicans would rather cut funding to the National Science Foundation…

    …and the James Webb Space Telescope, the single most important project in NASA due to its many-times-over superiority over the famed Hubble Space Telescope, is now on the chopping block and probably will not survive.

    It’s sad that I have to make this a political thing…but it’s the Thou-Shalt-Not-Tax Republicans who are flushing our science and space community down the economic toilet.

  • http://www.lunch.com/DrJosephSMaresca Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Soon enough, manned space missions will be back. At some point, a sustainable city may be built on the moon with advances in solar energy, battery technologies, nuclear fusion and other popular energy technologies.

    These things may be more likely once there are fewer wars on earth.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    It’s sad that I have to make this a political thing…but it’s the Thou-Shalt-Not-Tax Republicans who are flushing our science and space community down the economic toilet.

    Unless it’s the space communities in states like Florida, Texas and Alabama, whose Republican congressional representatives are eager to explain to us that on this issue, and this one issue only, it is important – nay, essential – to continue lavishly pouring taxpayer billions into inefficient, over-budget, behind-schedule and unnecessary programs like Orion/Constellation because of the votes they bring to said congr… ahem – I mean, because of the jobs, revenue and economic stimulus they bring to their states.

  • http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/19915 werner rettig

    Hi! Some of you guys might be interested in reading my book “The Canduit Project”; the first chapter is all about a rotating space station, a unique space craft launching system , asteroid deflectors and moon bases. 50% of the book can be down-loaded for free from Smashwords.