Wednesday, March 19, 2008

America Losing Space Lead?

via RCP, the Houston Chronicle bemoans the fact that the US may be facing a hiatus of its manned spaceprogram of five years or better. Can't say as though I disagree. China may wind up with a permanent post on the Moon before we do. Wew are facing the prospect of watching other nations leading the exploration of the next frontier.

"With the retirement of the aging space shuttle fleet looming in two years, the United States faces the humiliating prospect of paying billions of dollars to Russia for years to hitch rides to an international space station built largely with American funds.

Even more unsettling, when the next generation Orion space vehicle is finally ready to carry our astronauts back to the moon sometime before 2020, they may find Chinese counterparts already there and working. Having grown accustomed to the leading role in manned exploration of space, Americans are in for an era of diminished expectations and heightened competition for the high ground."

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin points out that the Chinese have 200,000 people working on their space program, just the third nation to send a man into orbit. That is twice the number participating in out own programs. The one caveat to this is America's growing private space industry, led by the SpaceX corporation. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson has proposed additional funding to the Orion program to speed progress there as well. However, the Chronicle does miss a couple of points in their analysis - while our manned exploraiton will definitely be curtailed, our unmanned programs will certainly be able to continue, and there is the possibility of delaying the shuttle retirement for a short period if funding (ever the issue for NASA) could become available.

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