In the context of last year’s final flight of NASA’s space shuttle, critics and supporters of the federal agency speculated about the future of human space flight — and the role of government in such endeavors. Private industry and several entrepreneurs have sought for many years to create a role for non-governmental space flight. Now one of the leaders in the aerospace industry is projecting a future for human exploration of the solar system with a far less astronomical price tag than those that have accompanied governmental space programs.
Many were surprised when the prediction by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of potential major disruptions of power grids, Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, and internet communications as a result of a solar storm failed to materialize. Most were likely totally unaware of the threat.
It was in the fall of 1962 that President John F. Kennedy set forth his vision of seeing Americans successful land on the Moon and return safely by the end of the decade, but an important step on the race to the Moon had already been taken seven months earlier. On February 20, 1962, a 40-year-old Marine Corps pilot from the state of Ohio became the first American to orbit the Earth. Now, 50 years later, former Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) still insists he never saw himself as a hero, but a nation that was in the depths of the Cold War at the time of his flight aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft would have disagreed.
The field of private space ventures is gaining a new competitor, Stratolaunch Systems, the brainchild of former Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. According to press reports, Allen is prepared to commit at least $200 million of his own fortune to the creation of a launch vehicle he believes will allow for inexpensive launches of satellites into low Earth orbit.
A flawless launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on November 26 has NASA’s latest mission to Mars safely on its nearly nine-month journey to the red planet. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, a rover that has also been given the name Curiosity, is the American space agency’s most advanced rover to date, and its mission is nothing less than to continue the search for life on Mars and prepare for future human exploration.