It’s Got to be Tough to be an Astronaut (Poll on Future of Manned Space Program)

June 11th, 2010

I have mixed feelings about the path Obama has chosen to take with NASA.   I hate it when discussions develop along mindless political lines, like how some conservatives say that private industry is always better than the government (it is sometimes but not other times), how some liberals and libertarians think that the government has no reason to be spending money on things like space, etc.   There are big fundamental discussions that should be revisited from time to time, but it is clear that space is an important resource and deserving of exploration and that the government has funded much of what has been done to date.

I’ve been reading shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane’s autobiography Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut, and enjoying it very much (he also wrote Do Your Ears Pop in Space and 500 Other Surprising Questions about Space Travel which is a great reference book for a hard sf author, by the way).   I just finished the part about the uncertainty at the start of the shuttle program, with delays, concerns for the new systems working, angst about shuttle assignments.

I can only imagine what it must be like for the astronauts now, with the shuttle program ending and its proposed successor Constellation all but canceled (AKA “sudden halt”) as of this week.

Here’s a video on youtube, based on a Southpark episode, that sums up one perspective:

Here’s a slide show of ten private industry contenders for future spacecraft that shows some exciting stuff being developed.

But we’re in phase 2:   ???

It’s either the dawn of a bold new age of space excitement, or a convenient place to set down the book and forget to pick it up again until the budget is in better shape.

I suppose I’m thinking about the astronauts now because that is a job I’ve aspired to in the past and thought about applying for, and it is also the human-face of this change at NASA.   I’ve met a few astronauts in my day and one of my former engineering professors even became a mission specilaist and serviced the Hubble Space Telescope.   Reading Mullane’s book reminded me of dreams of space and how much it hurts when achieving those dreams is outside your control.   I mean, no one can stop me from writing another novel, other than myself, but a political decision can sure determine whether or not an astronaut gets to go into space.

So, what do you think?   Are we entering an exciting phase of the space age, or stumbling on the next step upward and outward?

Privatizing Spacecraft Development is...

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