No doubt the shuttle has been around too long and, yes, it’s high time it’s retired. To retire it now, however, is not the right time. How about having another vehicle ready to take over once the shuttle retires?
It seems the 1986 report from the National Commission on Space is largely ignored today. The Commission, formed under the Reagan Administration, outright said, “Never again should the US experience the hiatus in manned space flight that it did from 1975 to 1981″, the period between Apollo and Shuttle.
My, how people forget! For the amount of money it takes to fund the Space Program compared to many other government agencies it’s about time the U.S. considers whether or not they really want to continue to lead the world in space technology and space firsts.
If it does, then first, fund the commercial sector and let it take over flights to the ISS and other earth orbit missions. Fund NASA so it can develop Ares V and Orion and, yes, get back to the moon and use that as the start to Mars and beyond. Forget Ares I. Work to develop new technologies in propulsion and life support and the like that can be employed in future programs, but don’t wait for this to happen. Let’s use what we have now to get back to the moon and beyond.
But in the meantime, use shuttle twice a year (like the later Apollo flights) until new vehicles are ready for service. Let’s get out of Earth orbit and get “out there”, and let’s start doing it within this decade. And keep in mind, manned space flight is the biggest peaceful drive of technology and the economy we have.