Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Brave New World

NASA fired back at Russia's threat to defund the International Space Station by 2020 if the US and Europe go through with sanctions.  In the missive, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that the ISS is bigger than any one country and that it will do just fine without Russia should it choose to bail.  At the moment the US and other space station countries are relying on Russia to transport scientists to the satellite, but Boldon said that private companies will be able to ferry scientists to the ISS by 2017, rendering Soviet space craft obsolete.  The US ended its space shuttle program in 2011 after a 30 year run.

Meanwhile, Russia has entered into negotiations with China to launch a new joint mission after 2020.  China is currently banned from participating in the ISS program, and has been rapidly developing its own space program to rival that of the US and its intergalactic allies.  It built this program largely on Soviet technology, which Russia still uses for the most part.  This partnership won't represent a great leap forward.

It seems the bigger leap will come from the private sector, which is taking a much more active role in space technology as a result of the US government shrinking the NASA budget considerably since the glory days of the 1960s.  At that time, the US was spurred by the rapid development of the Soviet space program, which put the first man in space in April 1961.

You might recall Moonbase Newt during the 2012 primaries calling for greater federal spending on NASA and colonization of the moon, just like Moonbase Alpha in Space 1999.  He was derided by his Republican opponents.  Seems they didn't share the same vision or nostalgia (depending on your viewpoint) as the moon would offer us little benefit in long range space exploration.  Interstellar spacecrafts like Voyager have been far more beneficial in collecting data than were any of the Apollo missions, and ultimately the Space Shuttle program proved too costly for its relatively limited use.

Still, the dream of man in space lingers on, largely due to science fiction movies.  The problem is that man is ill-equipped to handle space travel, especially intergalactic space travel like in Star Trek.   I suppose scientists can create robots in man's image, as in Blade Runner and Alien, but more likely scientists will opt for more mechanical versions that can do the exploration work on distant planets.  Mars rovers are giving us ever greater insights into this not so distant planet, which has long played on the imagination.

Whatever the case, space exploration is no longer solely the imperative of the United States and Russia.  Many other countries are involved.  Even Lithuania had a nanosatellite launched from the ISS using a unique Japanese technology.  Japan is one of the members of the ISS.

It's a Brave New World.

1 comment:

  1. Worth noting that one of the companies competing for the contract to shuttle astronauts to the ISS is Space X, founded by Elon Musk,