What’s next

Posted on February 22nd, 2010 by george.
Categories: future, history, society, space, synthesis, technology.

Endeavour landed yesterday on its penultimate mission. I tweeted about it, noting that there are only four space shuttle missions left on the manifest. My friend Patrick just asked me what’s next for NASA after the Shuttle retires. My reply on Facebook turned into an essay, so I thought I’d share it here.

What comes after the Shuttle? All the things about NASA that don’t make the headlines will continue. Some even get more funding. The Shuttle has been the poster child for 30 years, but in the meantime, NASA has been instrumental in furthering our understanding of climate dynamics, earth observation, deep space astronomy and cosmology. Robotic planetary and solar exploration, cutting edge research in biology, materials, aeronautics, energy generation, propulsion, you name it, have all continued. Shuttle launches are sexy. But when they end, perhaps a little more light will be shed on everything else NASA does. Cassini, the robotic probe that has taught us more about Saturn and its moons than we ever knew before, just got a seven year life extension. And human space exploration isn’t dead; the Falcon 9 rocket just went vertical last week, with a test capsule that SpaceX claims can be human rated. Static test firings of the Falcon 9 could come as early as this week. Private subspace (read: Virgin Galactic) should come online this year. The Russians are cranking out Soyuz launches like Henry Ford did Model Ts. Europe, Japan, China, & India all have launch systems. The Shuttle will stop flying, but humans won’t. Maybe if we’re lucky they’ll resurrect the HL-20. Or the X-33. And don’t forget: the Air Force has a spaceplane now.

Humans have had a continuous presence in space since the year 2000, thanks to the International Space Station. Think about it. For the last decade, a single second hasn’t passed that someone wasn’t zooming over your head at 17,500 mph. It may sound pie-in-the-sky, but that’s the reason I answered a question about NASA’s future with international and private examples: as we go forward, this will be a cooperative effort. It’s one planet. One home. That is an inescapable fact. We are one species. Why not pool our efforts? There’s no need to reinvent the rocket just because you live in a particular spot on this planet behind some imaginary line. There’s no need for every country to send an individual probe to the moon or Mars just because we hoard information about our solar system as if we own it because we were the first to discover it. A fact is a fact; congratulations on learning it first. Now SHARE.

Newsflash: you can’t see borders from space. In my book, that means they don’t exist. They are mere constructs, accidents of history, that everyone seems to agree upon. They are fiction. Made up. There is true reality, and then there is that of which we are convinced. Exploration is inevitable. So is growth. I hope the void left by Discovery and the other shuttles makes room for the spaceships…and discoveries…of tomorrow.

12 comments.

Lorenia

Comment on February 22nd, 2010.

What comes after the Shuttle? All the things about NASA that don’t make the headlines will continue.

All those things people don’t appreciate but have thanks to NASA. SIGH!

Also: love that last paragraph.

george

Comment on February 22nd, 2010.

How very appropriate that you made the first comment, since you worked out all the kinks in the xhtml! Thanks babe.

20tauri

Comment on February 22nd, 2010.

Great post :)

george

Comment on February 22nd, 2010.

Thanks Maia!

EzraSF

Comment on February 23rd, 2010.

I’m glad you posted this. I happen to be reading Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. Spreading both the costs and rewards of exploration by internationalization seems a better approach than attempting to do it all ourselves.

Personally, I am disappointed we don’t already have moon, martian, and cerian colonies already in place with eyes toward Europa and Titan.

george

Comment on February 23rd, 2010.

Thanks Ez! I still haven’t read Pale Blue Dot. Let me know how you like it. Internationalization and cooperation are the way forward…when people learn how to make money in space, though, watch out.

I think most people in this business share your outlook. Think of how much we could have accomplished, even unilaterally, if we had spent our defense budget on space exploration. We’d have far more than those outposts you mentioned. I would imagine such a demonstration of human ability would inspire other countries enough to offset any manufactured ideas we have about potential “threats.” I point to the ISS when people carp about peace and cooperation being impossible.

delara

Comment on March 9th, 2010.

it’s almost time to break fast today. i have few brain cells left. i LOVED this post, though. so, thank you. and what i have to contribute is:

word. :-P

george

Comment on March 10th, 2010.

LOL word. Hope those brain cells enjoyed their much-deserved repast.

Elizabeth Walker Sabet

Comment on March 24th, 2010.

Hi George, I think I know you from your time at the BWC (if I have the right George). I was at KSC last week for a conference at SLSL and got to visit the Endeavor and the Discovery and was tweeting up a storm about it, and your friend Sholeh told me you are working there. I had no idea! If I’m ever in the neighborhood again I will say hi!

george

Comment on March 24th, 2010.

Elizabeth, it’s nice to meet you. I’ll be going to the Baha’i World Center for the first time this May, on Pilgrimage. Though for many reasons I feel as if I’ve already been there, I think you may have a different George. No matter! We have a mutual friend in Sholeh (and I’m sure several others), so I’m happy to know you. Please do let me know if you’re ever here in central Florida again!

brian

Comment on April 11th, 2010.

totally also need to read Pale Blue Dot… This post was awesome on FB, and great here too. Glad you saved it. We’ve had some great discussions related to your posts on FB… I still remember being totally geeked about the X-33 and it’s crazy aerospike engine back in either high school or college when I was an avid follower of the ISS build website. So happy that I’ve realized I need to go back to school for engineering and am taking the steps to do that… Mia and I wish we could live closer to you two so we can have our discussions in person! :D

george

Comment on April 11th, 2010.

Excellent! I’m glad you liked it Brian. That is SUCH GREAT NEWS that you’re going to study engineering. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth it. I’m your go-to guy for anything that might come up in the course of your studies. If I can’t help you myself, I’ll find someone who can. It’s important to have a support network in order to make it all the way through school!

I wish you guys lived closer to us too. But at least we have the internet!

Leave a comment

Comments can contain some xhtml. Names and emails are required (emails aren't displayed), url's are optional.