I know that time are tough lately for everyone. Families and businesses alike have to find ways to cut costs, and do more with less. That apparently is true even for the federal government, as evidenced recently by the complete elimination of NASA’s manned space programs to the Moon and Mars. Done. Fini. Caput. No space for us. At least that’s the way it seems to those of us who have been passionate about our manned space program. It seemed that with a sweep of the budgetary pen, president Obama dashed the hopes and dreams of a generation of space fanatics – squashing forever our dream of seeing humans return to the moon, and (dare I say it?) walk one day on Mars.
With the immanent retiring of the Space Shuttle fleet, and all funding for its replacement eliminated, there seemed little hope that we would continue the proud tradition in America of being first into space. First to the Moon, someday first to Mars. All of those dreams seemed to be lost.
At least it seemed that way. As we watched the president’s speech announcing his sweeping cuts to the manned space program, the lights it seemed, came down on the grand theater that is our destiny in space. No more heroes for our children to idolize. No more satisfied feeling of superiority as America shot ahead of every other nation in the race for space. At least there wouldn’t be if not for that most valuable and cherished off all beings in a capitalist society – the entrepreneur. For it seems that once again it will be those daring captains of enterprise that will swoop in and save this country from itself. And thank goodness for that.
You see it turns out that slashing the manned space program from the budget may just have been the kick-in-the-pants that the manned space program needed. Enter stage left, Richard Branson – followed closely by a host of other wealthy, visionary dreamers who see space as the destiny of the human race, not just an expenditure that should be cut from the budget.
While for decades, we Americans were perfectly satisfied to allow Big Government to manage our goal of reaching Space for real, as with so many things, it turns out they don’t do such a great job. Billion dollar cost over-runs, mis-management and even corruption have led to a bloated NASA budget, with precious little to show for results. No wonder Obama slashed their budget.
After the initial shock of these cuts sank in, I began to see this as the opportunity that it is. Now at last with NASA out of the way, and regulations relaxed a bit, the stage is set for the true movers and shakers of the world to step up and actually get things done. Driven forward by <Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company, and followed closely by a host of other players in this new arena, private enterprise is finally making an appearance on the grand stage of Space Exploration.
I predict that as with so many other examples in the past, it will be the entrepreneur who will be able to build space craft cheaply enough, and reliably enough that finally Space will be made available to the common man. Oh mind you, not the average “common man” to start, but just as the first Trans-Atlantic airplane rides cost the equivalent of a year’s salary to most people, the price will come down. More and more companies will begin to offer private charters to space. Even now there are not one, but two separate “space ports” being constructed in the deserts of the southwestern United States. Science fiction had become science fact. Nothing like the raucous cantina of Star Wars fame (at least not yet) they are still a shining example that the human spirit of exploration cannot be kept down.
And so I will try to remember all that, as NASA prepared to “power down” and find work for the hundreds of people who are bound to be laid off as a result of all this. I will remember that this is not the end of manned space flight, but rather an evolution. Growing pains, if you will. In the end I believe that this will be viewed by history as the true turning point for manned space exploration. Not the end of the dream, but an energizing life-force that will carry forward so that our children, and their children will live in a world where a trip to the Moon of Mars is no more fantastic that flying to China is today. That day will come, and when it does we will have people like Richard Branson to thank for it.