|Endeavour Departing KSC. Credit NASA/Kim Shiflett|
As with the final voyages of Discovery to Washington, DC, and Enterprise to New York, millions looked up to see her pass overhead in Florida, Houston and points along the way. The second day will take her to Edwards Air Force Base in California; and then treating California residents from Sacramento to San Francisco and Los Angeles to awesome flyovers.
On this occasion it is valuable to take quick stock of NASA and our space program. The shuttles must not be the end of an era, but the prelude to an exciting new era of Americans going to the moon, asteroids and Mars.
A decade of budget cuts, a lack of leadership, and possible additional massive budget cuts all offer serious threats to maintaining American leadership in space.
|Endeavour Over Houston. Credit NASA|
The International Space Station is entering its second decade in orbit--and recently helped solve problems of bone loss in space; vital for a Mars mission.
Private companies are indeed building exciting new rocket systems to take astronauts to orbit, but it will be several years until they are ready.
We successfully landed Curiosity on Mars, and it will spend 2 years or more making incredible discoveries.
We have space probes visiting asteroids and outer planets. We have sent sophisticated orbiters and probes to or past every planet but Pluto, and have a probe en route there now!
We are building our moon/Mars rocket--but NASA has not defined missions for it, such as "we will go to this asteroid by 2019; we will go to the moon by 2020; and to Mars before 2030." Without goals and timetables, we will go nowhere--and Congress won't fund vague plans.
Budget cuts endanger every major program. 'Sequestration' will chop another 8.2% out of NASA's budget. NASA spending has not been as lot a percentage of the budget since 1959--0.4%. This must be increased to 1% to maintain US leadership in space and high tech.
Current and future missions are in increasing danger from budget cuts. It's even possible some existing probes might even be shut down and abandoned due to budget cuts--years before their lifespan would be over.
China and Russia are gearing up to fill the vacuum, with plans for lunar bases, lunar mining, and eventually trips to Mars and beyond. China's militaristic actions in the South China Sea are not reassuring if we are to believe they will not claim the moon or attack our satellites. Civilian presence in space can help discourage military claims.
NASA can help bring America a bright exciting future, and bring us incredible benefits of high tech leadership, jobs, investments, inventions and national pride/international respect IF we once again make space a national priority. Readers are urged to contact their representatives and candidates to spare NASA from budget cuts, and to increase funding to 1% of the budget.
Let's honor the legacy of the shuttles by rebuilding the space program!