The Space Shuttle will roar into retirement on Friday, leaving NASA with no vehicle of its own to replace it. The situation has some, including moonwalker Neil Armstrong and US Senator Richard Shelby, declaring the end of US competitiveness in space.
Yet, I would argue that recent events and the boldest new space policy since Kennedy launched us to the moon are in fact rocketing America once again to the lead in space.
In April 2010 President Obama directed NASA to hire private space taxis for access to the International Space Station. Just eight months later, SpaceX became the first private company to launch and then recover an object—a craft big enough for 7 astronauts—from orbit. The company will be ready to send cargo to the Space Station by the end of this year, and crews within three years.
SpaceX is just one of a new breed of American ventures that will make access to space safer and more affordable. The list includes Scaled Composites (building spacecraft for Virgin Galactic); XCOR Aerospace; Blue Origin; Sierra Nevada Corp; and Bigelow Aerospace.
It may be hard to keep this in mind now as Shuttle workers are being laid off, but the new private space flight industry will employ many more people working on many more projects than Shuttle; already companies like SpaceX are snapping up engineers and technicians as fast as they can.
I”ll be on the radio through this week talking about why the Shuttle’s retirement is the best thing for the US space program since Apollo. Link through to the station websites below to tune in. All times are Eastern.
Times UPDATED on 7/6 at 8:51 p.m.
Thursday, July 7
8:40 a.m., 55KRC, Cincinnati, OH
Monday, July 11
5:50 p.m., WDUN, North Georgia