Not A Space Administration

The United States does not have an agency whose sole purpose is to oversee the exploration of space.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is primarily an Earth-sciences agency, providing data on the planet from satellites.  Space exploration makes up only a fraction of its budget, contrary to what some critics have maintained.

The Earth exists in space, orbiting a small star we call the Sun, receiving most of its energy from that star, and protected from disaster by a thin film of atmosphere.  Objects come out of the sky, as we have seen, and we cannot see everything that is out there from where we are.  Currently, the U.S. is relying on our close friends, the Russians, to let us hitch rides to the nice space station that we helped them build.  There is no firm date on when this state of affairs is going to change, but something tells me that it will change.

We are relying on private industry to invest in a still very dangerous, expensive, and challenging enterprise, and to spend enough that we can maintain our access to space.  Launching satellites is a potentially profitable venture, and money has been made in sending up small payloads.  Beyond that, there is only uncertainty, as rockets large enough to put people in space are still not in production, and the reliability of rockets that have only flown a few times is largely a gamble.

The United States is investing less than a billion dollars a year on space exploration development; the design of new launch vehicles, the testing of new Thermal Protection Systems, the advancement of the flying-to-a-landing kind of return, and ways to improve the safety and reliability of putting people into space are all competing with  each other for the few dollars available.  And probes to other planets are coming out of that same budget, which reduces the funds that can be used on developing new launch systems.  Ones that don’t rely on the remaining shuttle engines, or Russian engines, ones that don’t take off straight up, instead using a launching rail to help get the aircraft carrying the spacecraft off the ground.

We need a space agency where the leaders listen to the engineers, instead of ignoring them, as they did during the Challenger disaster and the loss of the Columbia.  Both of those shameful incidents could have been prevented, and neither was a result of any failure of the shuttle vehicle design.  Manned space exploration is still too big of a project to expect private industry to be able to properly pursue.  Development of reusable, safe, economical space transportation to and from earth orbit is the biggest obstacle to the next industrial revolution.  We need an agency focused on space flight, on putting people where the frontier is.  We need something better than ‘Not A Space Agency’.

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