A sad day for human space exploration?

NASA Ares I rocket / Visualisation, 2009

Yesterday President Obama announced his budget for 2011 which delivered a crushing blow to NASA’s Constellation program – the  agency’s current plan to get humans back on the Moon and perhaps beyond. The decision calls for Constellation to be scrapped in favour of investing money into helping commercial spaceflight.

I’m not sure how I feel about this news. To be honest, Constellation always felt like kind of a waste of money anyway. With the Shuttle fleet retiring this year, there was still going to be at least a 5 year gap before the Ares rockets were ready to take humans back into space. But it also seems crazy to me that private companies should be entrusted with US spaceflight. I wholeheartedly endorse commerical space exploration – Branson’s Virgin Galactic looks like the most exciting thing ever – but surely the fledgling industry just isn’t ready to replace the might of a government institution like NASA? And in the mean time countries like China, India and Japan are forging ahead in their national space efforts. We’ll surely see Chinese astronauts on the Moon and indeed on Mars before Americans.

Overall the news just fills me with a sadness and a longing for the glory days of NASA in the 60s. I can’t help but feel that what was once the greatest example of human achievement looks like it is beginnging to fade away. I hope I’m wrong.

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