As the Space Shuttle Endeavour began its final mission on May 16, the future of NASA’s human space program remains uncertain. The space shuttle program is steadily approaching its end, but the readiness of the space agency to move forward in a post-shuttle era remains to be seen.
Private industry is making progress toward lowering the cost of space flight, and NASA would like to come along for the ride.
Among the earliest actions of the Obama administration was the appointment of the “Augustine Committee,” which was given the responsibility of carrying out a review of NASA’s manned space program. The result of the committee deliberations was a NASA with its budget intact, but without a mission or mandate to go anywhere. The previous administration’s plans for a return to the Moon and eventual missions to Mars were abandoned — few presidential administrations are interested in implementing the showpiece programs of their predecessors.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most significant milestones in the “Space Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it comes at a time when Russia once again hopes to sprint head of any rival space program.
An American company is planning to build the largest rockets since the days of NASA’s Apollo program, and promises to deliver payloads to orbit for a tenth the cost of the space shuttles of the U.S.’s troubled space agency. SpaceX has already successfully launch a smaller vehicle called the Falcon 9 on several occasions, but now the company has announced plans for a bold, new step in the development of private space flight.
Americans have become accustomed to the presence of Global Positioning System (or GPS) technology embedded in everything from the GPS on their dash to their cell phones and iPads. In fact, GPS is nearly taken for granted for everything from locating a restaurant to navigating a fishing boat through the fog. But now it appears that GPS, which was developed primarily for its military applications, is rather overtly returning to its "national security" roots, as NASA plans to turn the security of the GPS system over to the Department of Homeland Security.