What comes after the shuttle era?

What is it?

Running since 1981, NASA‘s shuttle program will come to an end in just 12 days. On the 21st of July, space shuttle Atlantis will return from its 135th and final mission to the international space station and the United States of America will lose its ability to send men and women into orbit.

What do we think?

Of all the negative news items clamouring for our attention, we feel oddly most saddened by this one. The American space shuttle program has been a visceral symbol of hope during the second half of the 20th Century – after looking for millennia towards the night sky with a powerful sense of wonder, here was our opportunity to actually travel there. The end of the shuttle program suggests we are turning our backs on the universe, retreating to the (dubious) safety of our tiny little planet.

This sense of retreat is only compounded by the recent cancellation of the SETI@home program, an ingenious distributed network of personal computers around the world all sifting data received from radio telescopes listening in on possible extra-terrestial communications.

But looking deeper into the story, we have discovered that all is not as bleak as it seems. Dr. Andrew Thomas, the Adelaide-born astronaut working with NASA, supports the closure of the shuttle program, stating, “It’s time to move on… It’s the right thing to do and it’s time we looked at new methods of getting into space and build on the legacy of the shuttle to do that.”

Importantly, Barack Obama has committed the US$4 billion it has spent annually on the shuttle program to the research and development of new craft that will again take us to the moon, and possibly even beyond. NASA’s Orion capsule, together with craft from private outfits like SpaceX and Boeing are such examples. We hope these efforts realise results, and soon.

We look forward to the day that sees us once more setting out for the stars.

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