Yesterday, the astronauts of the Space Shuttle Discovery were awoken by
the voice of Captain Kirk, praising the works and wonders accomplished by the shuttle over its thirty years of service to our nation. Right now, Discovery is finishing up its 39th mission-- bringing a high-tech new robot to the space station that will help with both experiments and general upkeep and maintenance up there. Tomorrow, Discovery will land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and will then eventually make its way to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The American Space Shuttle program has officially ended
, and we have no more scheduled plans for men to reach up for the stars or to touch the moon. We will continue our operations on the International Space Station, with our astronauts and tests hitching rides with our Russian counterparts for future missions.
President Bush ordered the retirement of the shuttles, and hoped to use NASA's minds and government funds to establish the Constellation Program in its wake. President Bush had an oft-overlooked fondness for NASA and space exploration, and through Constellation sought to reduce the costs of further exploration, to establish an extended human presence on the Moon, and to develop and test new technologies that could put us on a sustainable path for long-term space exploration. One year ago, President Obama deemed that the program was too expensive and lacked innovation, and subsequently ended the program. He has no major interest in space, only mentioning possible funding of the Orion-class shuttles for a potential mission to Mars in the future. Subsequently, after Discovery is shipped off to the Air and Space Museum, massive layoffs will be completed
at NASA and the aerospace contractors working for the government. Many of the brightest engineering and scientific minds in the world will suddenly find themselves unemployed.
However, there is no great loss in this. President Obama's lack of interest in the exploration of the great frontier is unsurprising (he does not seem to be one for gazing up in the stars with great awe and wonder, wanting to know more of the secrets they hold), and his lack of leadership is disappointing. But his inaction and the strained budget of the government is paving the way for a new age of American space exploration. For the past decade, the commercial space industry has been picking up steam, including some successful launches. Led by companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, these private enterprises hold the key to our competitiveness in space. With a sudden influx of the world's premier engineers and scientists now looking for work, the minds and expertise that the private industry has been lacking are now available to help.
More importantly, we can start to get excited about space again-- an excitement that can draw more people to study and fund aerospace projects and to become part of something great. It is worth noting that the Old World's discovery and exploration of New World, and its first settlements, were largely due to excited explorers funded by private interests, who served as patrons for exploration both for the economic benefits and the glory that comes with being a part of helping move the human race forward in understanding of some of the universe's great mysteries. For millennia we have gazed up at the stars, the Moon, and our neighboring planets with curiosity and wonder. We have sought new ways to understand and learn more of them, both for the practical benefits and the sake of understanding. As President Reagan fittingly said, it is a way to touch the face of God. America is a nation of innovators; it is for this that I do not fear the fact that China has plans to be on the Moon within a decade while we do not. We have led the way in the exploration of space, and we have the greatest minds in the world to continue this great project. With these great minds now free from the lamentable bureaucracy and managerial incompetence that has plagued NASA in recent years, our innovators and explorers and curious people will continue to seek how to go where Man has never gone before, and to once more touch the face of God.