17 July 2011

Our future in space?

When the touchdown of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS135, brings an era of human spaceflight to a close, it'll be a somewhat sad day. In many ways the Shuttle has been a marvel of technology and has opened up new vistas on the entire Universe, not just the low earth orbital realm inhabited by the International Space Station. Shuttle has launched some of our most important orbital science platforms, including the Hubble Space Telescope, arguably one of the most productive science machines ever implemented.
But now it is coming to an end - hopefully in a whimper. Where do we go from here? I was only a fetus when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon, and as a kid I thought we would at least be at Mars by now. I was reading Asimov & Clarke before Janet & John.
Does the decommissioning of the Shuttle fleet mean a step backwards in our exploitation of space, as  the cancelling of Apollo meant a very real retreat from the Moon? Or does clearing  the deck of a programme whose expiry date has come mean that the field is now clearer for development of smarter and cheaper ways of getting humans into orbit and beyond?
Part of me would have liked to have seen Atlantis stay docked long-term at the ISS, and the crew come down on a Soyuz. Prep the old girl in orbit for attachment to some boosters for a mission to Mars. Sure, that's nonsensical - it is not the vehicle for such a mission, but it would be a nice thought to have a jalopy parked in the yard for some spins around the block and further afield.
As it is, I firmly believe that we need to get back into space in a major way, both to protect our place on our own planet, and establish ourselves on others. We need to develop the technologies for living and working away from Earth, as well as reversing the cynicism that has set in since kids started reading Harry Potter instead of 2001 - A Space Odyssey.

1 comment:

  1. I watched man walk on the moon and the first flight of concorde and felt the 'white heat of technology'. My grandchildren have seen the retirement of concorde, no one walk on the moon (or Mars) and will see the last shuttle land. It is just so sad.