Friday, July 30, 2010

The Future of America's Space Program

I called my Representative today and asked him to vote "no" on the bill HR 5781. The bill would approve a budget for NASA that would allow us to send astronauts up on Russian spacecraft. That inherently doesn't sound like a bad idea, considering that we are retiring the U.S. Space Shuttle this year. *sigh* (I always thought I'd fly on the Space Shuttle some day...)
One of the major problems with the bill is that it doesn't offer much support to our fledgling commercial space efforts in the U.S.
Two companies in particular have made astonishing progress in the commercial sector: Scaled Composites and SpaceX. (Scaled Composites, creator of SpaceShipOne, is now currently owned by Northrop Grumman, while SpaceX, with its impressive fleet of Falcon rockets, is still owned by Elon Musk, as far as I know.)
With respect to space flights, we have to recognize that NASA does not have the leadership, organization, or momentum that it had in the late 50's through the 70's. Something has gotten lost along the way.
I remember the incredibly dynamic presentation given by Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, at the 2005 International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Washignton D.C. It was shortly after the historic ground-breaking flights of SpaceShipOne, the world's first privately funded spacecraft. The atmosphere at the meeting was nothing short of electric. There were thousands of people present, inspired by the accomplishments of a few hard-working people in the Mojave desert. Rutan said that new flight technology was not being developed at the rate that is has been in the past. He said that people in the aerospace industry had lost their courage, and that is why NASA was no longer flying any innovative new hardware.
It is sadly ironic that Rutan made these comments before an explosion at his company killed three of his own employees. The tragedy has not prevented Rutan from continuing his program, but it exemplified the fact that rocket fuels can be unpredictably deadly, and we still have a lot to learn about them.
I met Elon Musk the following year at the 2006 ISDC conference in Los Angeles. His confidence was undeniable. His presentation was professional and enlightening. After his talk, I thanked him personally for coming to the meeting. It was quite thrilling to meet the polite, 30-something-year-old, self-made millionaire who had started his own space company. I wanted to kiss him, or buy him dinner, but I was very aware that he was married at the time. *heavier sigh* (I also wanted to tell him that we have the same birthday - June 28 - but I wasn't sure that was the right moment...)
I have watched Elon's company garner more and more successes with time, with his most recent one being the launch of the Falcon 9. This vehicle is capable of sending seven astronauts into orbit, and has already been chosen by NASA to resupply the International Space Station when the Shuttle retires. 
I feel certain that our next leap into space is going to be largely due to the efforts made by these incredible people working in the private sector. It is critical that we support them NOW, while their momentum is still soaring.


  1. Hi! may I use this picture as a cover of my music album? It is totally non-commercial, I'm an underground artist, so there is no possibility of commercial usage or selling this pic.


  2. This is actually a NASA photo and it is free to use for non-commercial purposes. If you do ever want to go commercial, please contact Mr. Bert Ulrich of the NASA Public Services and Outreach Division, (202) 358-1750.