NASA Cutbacks is the Space Age over

NASA cutbacks: Is the Space Age over?

No, the United State’s Space Age is at a turning point and taking a step in a new direction.

The government, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) managed the space program admirably until the second moon landing, Apollo 12. Then American people lost interest, a kind of been there, done that attitude surfaced.  The discontent with the Vietnam War and awareness of social issues such as poverty, race and sexual inequality were growing.

Apollo 13 brought a slight surge of interest because three astronauts were grave danger of not returning after an oxygen tank exploded during course corrections on their trip to the moon. Engineers, scientists and technicians from NASA and its contractors developed a way for them to conserve enough oxygen to return safely.

Four more moon landings were successfully completed but three were actually cut because of lack of budget.

The Space Shuttle or its official name, the Space Transportation System (STS), was approved to replace the Saturn rockets in 1972. It was supposed to be cheaper, reusable, more reliable system than the disposable Saturn rockets.

While it was reusable and relatively reliable it was far from as cost effective as promised, even so, it provided numerous discoveries, advantages and tremendous payload capability. During its 30 years operation it flew 135 missions. It launched numerous satellites, interplanetary probes and helped build the International Space Station (ISS).

The Shuttle was a magnificent vehicle as were the Saturn’s, but the Shuttle never truly lived up to its promises of cheap and quick to turnaround for another flight.

Now it’s time for a step in a new direction for the United States’ Space Program, it’s time to let commercial companies take over. The government can no longer, reliably, fund space exploration with so many differing opinions on priorities.

Some argue that commercial space programs will cut corners when it comes to safety. Corners were cut before the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger explosion and the Columbia disaster. Corners were cut at other times leading to fatalities but not as high profile as these three incidents.  As proposed now, the commercial companies will be getting at least some government money so there will still be government oversight of all aspects including safety. Exploring space is a dangerous endeavor but well worth the risks. The benefits for the average citizen that come from the space program far outweigh the percentage of the national budget spent on space, approximately 0.6% according to Wikipedia NASA Budget.

Commercial companies have invested their money to develop rockets that have successfully orbited the earth. Soon they will launch a vehicle to dock with the International Space Station. They are using their own money and government money for this and other projects including unmanned and manned missions to Mars.

The question was: Is the United States Space Age over, no, just in a state of transition or evolution from one set of explorers, government sponsored to a new set, commercially motivated. Maybe the old space age is over but a new one is beginning.