The Realm of Space
"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." These were the words that rang in the hearts and minds of Americans throughout the country in 1969. From that point on, NASA has continued to make numerous advancements in aerospace, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Mars Pathfinder mission. These missions and projects have brought space exploration and our knowledge of the universe to a new dimension. However, even the best projects eventually run out of gas. This year, NASA plans to start the discontinuation their space shuttle.
In the years between the discontinuation of the space shuttles and 2014, the U.S. will be forced to catch a ride with the Russians. Boarding tickets aren't cheap; the U.S. will be paying tens of millions for each astronaut that climbs aboard. The Obama Administration may not even consider sending astronauts into orbit this year, as our country faces multi-trillion dollar deficits.
Many people are amazed at the incredible progress China has made in aerospace given the small period of time. Their Tiangong program is expected to launch three Chinese space stations into orbit between 2011 and 2015. The Chinese are even expected to accomplish a lunar landing by 2017 (Tkacik).
America's engineers in aerospace are far from young; the median age of NASA's manned space engineers is now over 55. More than a quarter is over the retirement age. In contrast, China's average lunar probe engineer is only 33 years old! America's once flourishing nation of aerospace is little more than a dwindling federal program, funded by a growing federal deficit. America's flexibility as a space-faring nation will be severely limited in the years to come, while China's space program will continue to reach for the sky.
The years between the discontinuation of the space shuttle and 2014 are not as bad as they may seem. Shortly after 2014, NASA will begin to launch its new generation of rockets. These rockets are part of the Constellation Program, designed to help put the United States back on the moon and possibly onto Mars (NASA.gov). However, the United States only planes to get back onto the moon around 2020, three years after the Chinese.
Part of NASA's Constellation program includes the Ares rocket and the Orion capsule. Both of these key parts will play an important role in improving the United States' presence on the moon. The Ares rockets are designed specifically to deliver large payloads of food, supplies, and cargo into orbit. Even so, many of the advancements require major funding by the government, something hard to come by right after a recession.
In essence, the discontinuation of the space shuttles will mean the end of our dominance as a space faring country. No longer will the noble words of Neil Armstrong, and the knowledge of space that we once held, be an inspiration for Americans; the era of space flight will be gone - faded and blurred like an antiquated black-and white photograph. This can all change when America finds a new goal, a new inspiration, and a new challenge to unite together and overcome. America's future - our future, depends on this, and a new era of space flight may provide the answer.
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