Monday, February 1, 2010

Space, Will We Ever Get to the Final Frontier?

There was some disappointing news today about the Obama administration's proposal to cut NASA funding. Besides the political implications and loss of jobs in key states that produce equipment for space travel, the real news here (as far as I can tell) is that this means we aren't going to the moon anytime soon.

And maybe that's not such a bad thing. I mean, we've been to the moon, right? Was there much there? Shouldn't we be setting our horizons for something more ambitious than just the moon? Or is this the Star Trek lover in me, wishing we would get on with it already and start exploring that final frontier?

What the announcement today did indicate is the intention to award grants/funding for private innovation in space exploration (see specifics here). Now, I'm a big fan of NASA but I also see how hard it is to create change in huge, bureaucratic organizations, especially at the federal government level. So, it could prove promising to spread some seed money around -- particularly during a really rough economic patch -- and see if private industry can do what NASA hasn't done yet and get more commercial means of space travel going.

Rather than look at this is a hit on NASA and space travel altogether, I'd prefer to believe in what the folks over at io9 posted today:

The budget junks a backward-looking program and funds a brand-new one that will focus on developing new space technologies, exploring the solar system with robots, and pushing humans closer to living offworld.
With renewed interest and focus on new engine types, propellants, materials, etc. the potential benefit for science and technology growth/development is so much broader than recreating space travel experiments.

The idea is to pump money into research so that the next time humans explore space we'll know a hell of a lot more about it and can establish viable communities in orbit, on the Moon, or on other planets.

The concept of being able to inhabit or even terraform other worlds is an incredible one at this point, but I love to imagine that the science fiction of my childhood could indeed become science fact within my lifetime. And then we could finally get off this hunk of rock! Now, we need to start working on that Federation...

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