Our View: Manned space exploration is not in a black hole
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 21:09
With one last victory lap over California’s coast, the NASA space shuttle Endeavour landed at LAX this past weekend. Endeavour’s landing in Los Angeles marked an end of an era of American-manned space exploration.
Endeavour was commissioned to replace Challenger in 1987 and made its maiden voyage in May 1992. Endeavour spent a total of 299 days in space and orbited the earth nearly 4,700 times. That would be roughly 123 million miles.
The entire fleet of NASA space shuttles was a symbol of American prowess and bravery. The retiring of the shuttle program now leaves a hole in many American hearts. Space travel was, and still is, a major part of our culture.
While it is sad that the NASA space shuttle program is over, it comes as no surprise.
Even though NASA’s budget is small relative to other facets of the government, it still costs a lot of money to maintain a strong and successful space program.
With the current debt the nation now faces, manned space travel is lowest on the priority list of stuff that needs to get done. Future government funded and manned space travel will be put on the back burner, especially because NASA already has capable robots exploring distant planets.
However, even though the space shuttles have retired, this does not bring about the end of an era of manned space travel.
It will just be funded in a different way.
Privately funded exploration is a growing sector of manned space travel. If manned space travel in America will no longer be funded by the government, then it is safe to say it is time for it to be privatized.
For example, billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson has created a new wing to his company called Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic already has a spaceplane that can allow passengers to experience weightlessness by flying just above the Earth’s atmosphere.
Virgin is also constructing a fleet of five spaceplanes that will take passengers to space in late 2013. Of course this is if you can afford the $200,000 ticket to go along with the $12,000 deposit. So far, the list of those waiting to be the first to experience Branson’s spaceplanes include Stephan Hawking, Angelina Jolie and Tom Hanks.
Thus space travel will mainly be reserved for the rich, for a while.
Branson’s fleet of spaceplanes will inspire competition. Branson and his spaceplanes will certainly be the pioneers of privately manned space travel, but of course there is plenty of space for more competition in the vastness of the universe.
Eventually, competition will slowly drive the price for traveling in space down. Maybe in the future, space will not be off-limits for the common American citizen.