Just how an empty Orion capsule designed to make work for displaced Shuttle employees doing two orbits before it splashes down into the Pacific Ocean is going to inspire taxpayers to spend hundreds of billions on Mars escapes me.
“A few minutes into the flight, the Falcon’s second stage is set up to separate and continue the trek to orbit. The first stage, meanwhile, will be commanded to relight its rocket engines and slow its descent toward the Atlantic Ocean. If everything works properly, the launch vehicle will unfold a set of four landing legs, practice a landing maneuver — and then settle down into the sea gently enough to be recovered and reused.”
Since the last space shuttle flight two-and-a-half years ago, our only means of getting NASA astronauts or anyone to the ISS has been on the Soyuz launch system, at an ever-rising cost, now over $70M a seat as of last August. Alternate competing U.S. means to replace it are under development in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, but Congress has been continually underfunding the effort in order to instead funnel money to the Space Launch System, a giant rocket with no funded payloads and no apparent mission other than providing job security in the states and districts of those on the congressional space committees.
Rand Simberg has an article on USA Today. This week is the anniversary of the three worst accidents in NASA’s history: the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger explosion, and the Columbia break-up. Space is still a very dangerous place, and getting there is risky. His comments (but read the whole thing):
But should safety be NASA’s highest priority? If it is, then that means other things, such as actually accomplishing things in space, are a lower one. The surest way to make sure our astronauts don’t die in space is to keep them on the ground. And indeed, that is more and more what we do, choosing robotic exploration over opening the frontier to humanity.
The obsession with safety is sincere, if unspoken, testimony to just how unimportant we consider the opening of that final and harshest of frontiers. The last time space was important was when we were racing the Soviets to the moon more than four decades ago. Now, we no longer consider it worth the risk. Had we taken such an attitude in Panama, no one would have turned the first shovel of dirt.
As NASA has dithered, private investors who understand the true scope of opportunity in space as well as the dangers are stepping up by investing in new ships, technologies and commercial ventures.
This sad week, perhaps the best way to honor the men and women who gave their lives would be to recognize that they did so willingly, and set forth a bold national frontier-opening policy, including recognizing that it has never happened without human bloodshed. As John Shedd wrote last century, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”
via NASA’s mission is not safety: USA Today.