you say that "Human spaceflight is an important end in itself".
What problems does it solve, what scientific or engineering objectives does it meet?
If it's an emotional ideal, it's just not worth the multi-billion dollar investment. Just to put things in perspective, NASA could sent 3 robotic probes to Mars for the price of a single shuttle mission.
@Battar: I agree with you that NASA doesn't need to "return" to space when they are already there. However, I disagree that a human presence in space is unnecessary. There is a lot of exploration that can be carried out by robotic probes, but human spaceflight is an important end in itself.
That being said, William Anders, the astronaut who took the iconic "Earthrise" photo, has said that we shouldn't travel to Mars until we're ready to do so as humans, rather than nationalistic Americans or Russians or Chinese or Indians.
I agree with that sentiment, although I'm not so sure about the possibly centuries-long wait it might impose.
I don't think any of NASA'a sensible and ultimately useful objectives in space require human presence. unless it's to provide material for press releases and "Discovery channel" documentaries. All of NASA's most impressive work - Hubble, Mars rovers, navigation satellites, apcae borne experiements - are carried out by unmanned craft via telemetry. Cheaper, safer, more productive. In terms of unmanned missions, NASA doesn't need to "return" to space. They are still up there.
I agree completely. The technological benefits of returning to space are boundless. There is one intangible difficult to quantify—national pride in being THE country capable of providing much needed advances in technology and bringing forth the possibility of better living standards for the entire world. In my opinion, advances in medicine would be worth the effort. If we could eliminate 10 % of the waste and fraud in the Medicare and Medicade system we could finance NASA in a much more generous fashion.
Technology have become so commonplace and the successes so routine that we have lost much of the wonder of how these things are accomplished be it space exploration, modern medical devices, or the smart phone in one's hand. The Opportunity and Spirit rovers were designed to perform 90 day missions and operated for years. Curiosity is working well and is expected to operate for years. Hubble got a corrective len package, has been upgraded a couple of times, and has produced some of the more impressive images ever produced. We have learned to communicate with spacecraft over a billion miles away. When a problem has arisen such as the ammonia leak on the space station or the water issue in the space suit, the challenge is overcome with little fanfare. These accomplishments have become almost a footnote in the public's conscienciousness.
Without a disaster, we rarely see NASA in the news for these accomplishments. We cannot get live coverage of a launch of a crew to the ISS yet we have "reality" TV of people sharing a house, living on an island, or in a jungle until they are voted out. We have live nightly TV coverage of lottery drawings. It's a sad state of affairs.
Dave - I think these types of actvities have been severely limited for years now...glad to hear about what you are doing and it certainly serves as inspiration for all of us.
Here's a fun resource for kids written by one of the Rocket Boys - it's fiction but it excites the imagination! It also mentions the Helium 3 that has been a topic of discussion as an energy source from the moon for years...
@Nancy: NASA temporarily suspended its Education and Public Outreach activities in March, due to the sequester which has effected the entire federal government. This is definitely something worth writing to Congress about because of the importance of getting kids excited about space travel.
That being said, there are a lot of things that we can do as engineers to help spread enthusiasm about space. I've been working with my local public library to help acquire some NASA historical artifacts and design an exhibit around them. We're hoping to invite Dr. Ellen Ochoa, who was the first Latina astronaut, and is now the director of the Johnson Space Center, to come talk to students. (Dr. Ochoa, if you're reading this, please e-mail me!)
@Rob: You can learn about NASA's plans here. (It's also the first site that comes up if you Google "future NASA missions").
As you read this, five men and one woman are orbiting the Earth on the International Space Station, the Curiosity rover just completed a year on Mars and is still going strong, the New Horizons probe is on its way to Pluto, and the Cassini probe is continuing to send back data from Saturn. Those are just a few of the missions NASA is currently engaged in. Meanwhile, just yesterday, SpaceX completed a demonstration of its Grasshopper VTVL (vertical takeoff-vertical landing) vehicle.
Exciting things are happening, and a pessimistic attitude that treats the space program as a dying relic of the past runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we want politicians to support the space program -- and more importantly, if we want young people to dream about space -- we need to be positive and optimistic.
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