I vaguely remember when the Shuttle program began, and I vividly remember the two tragic accidents of Challenger and Columbia. I believe the space program continues to be of great importance, and I hope that the private sector can pick up the slack left by the lack of government funding for NASA manned spaceflight programs.
Here’s a nice video summary of the Space Shuttle program:
Some people object that there are plenty of scientific problems to be solved here on the planet itself, and much needs be done to improve the quality of life of the poor. Instead of spending vast amounts of money on purely scientific and military endeavors in space, we should be allocating those funds for human development and for protecting the environment on good ol’ Planet Earth.
However, I don’t see why it has to be an “either-or” scenario. Research aimed at space technology also helps develop earth-side applications, and although resource mining and colonization on other planets or moons is still far off, it could be very beneficial to all Earth’s inhabitants and the future of humanity.
As we realize how vitally important it is to protect Earth’s environment, the high costs and challenges of space might become less and less of a deterrent. While we should continue to try to find cleaner technologies to use on earth, we could also try to outsource some dirtier production processes to barren planets where we won’t be damaging living ecosystems. Of course, that demands cost-effective interplanetary transportation, which is not yet on the horizon.
Also, as many people have argued, it’s a good idea not to have all our biological eggs in one basket. Establishing colonies on other planets could eventually help ensure the survival of the human race. Granted, we do not yet know of any habitable planets, and the technology to create suitable, self-contained, large-scale, safe environments on places like the moon is not yet within our reach. And again, means of interplanetary mass transportation are still just a thing of dreams.
However, what seems impossibly expensive, technically unfeasible, or just plain impossible today, might become commonplace in a few decades thanks to unexpected scientific breakthroughs. After all, how many people one hundred years ago seriously expected gadgets as powerful as iPhones?
Right now, we are mostly occupying and exploring a minuscule portion of God’s creation. There is literally a whole universe out there waiting to be explored. Much of that can be done remotely through telescopes and by means of robotic probes, but hopefully we can eventually make it safe and affordable for human beings to venture further out again, to the moon and beyond.
Maybe this stage of turning to the private sector for spaceflight services will be the key to igniting a revolution in space technology. Although NASA has done great things, large government institutions do not have a great reputation for efficiency, and they are subject to political manipulation and bureaucratization. Private investment, competition and market pressure has driven the computer industry to amazing achievements and always “more bang for the buck”. Maybe we need Microsoft and Apple to get into the space exploration industry… If that happens, based on my experience with computers, I’ll be riding in an Apple iRocket, not a Microsoft Windows XPloration Vehicle.