Friday, July 8, 2011

What's Next for NASA?

Earlier today, Atlantis lifted off in what is NASA's final shuttle flight of its thirty year program. The general scientific consensus seems to be a begrudging admission that the shuttle program achieved mixed results overall. I'm no scientist, so I can't chime in one way or the other intelligibly, but the idea of humans journeying into space was always cool and admirable to me, regardless of the mission.

I wonder where NASA goes from here? It seems like the wise money will be spent on unmanned probes and satellites and on things like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which looks like it's going to replace The Hubble.

I'd like to see the government spend more on research into interstellar space flight. I know that we theoretically can't travel faster than light, but it'd be good to be able to reach some of these potentially habitable exoplanets in a reasonable, and practical, amount of time. Call it manifest destiny if you want, but I think it's imperative the human race colonize other, already habitable worlds. Because the odds are long we'll be able to effectively terraform any of the other bodies in our solar system, and as a species we don't want to keep all our eggs in one basket. If you've read The Road, you know exactly what I'm talking about.


seana said...

I think the human race will eventually take a serious venture off earth, but it may not be within our lifetimes. And it may not be westerners. I don't really think that matters. I think we as a species have a destiny with space. Though maybe we have to take the long view about it.

Nathanael Green said...

Do you think we could put NASA to finally (FINALLY!) figuring out how to make tasty cereal that doesn't get soggy?

C'mon, people. It's the 21st century and I'm still wolfing down my Fruity Pebbles like I was on speed before they turn into bits of wet, fluorescent paper towels.

Barring that, I agree. Faster-than-light travel seems a prime area of research. Honestly, I'm surprised we don't hear more about privatization of space research and travel beyond Richard Branson.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana -

You're right: we'll definitely have to take the long view with space. And if faster-than-light or at least near-light-speed travel doesn't pan out, we'll have to figure out a way to extend our lives beyond current limits if we want to get anywhere. Either that or some type of Ark ship.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Nate -

NASA solved the soggy cereal problem years ago. Where have you been?

I guess private investors are still looking for the big ROI on space research. But at our current rate, China is going to beat us Mars.

Nathanael Green said...

I'm talking TASTY cereal. I don't want any of this branObits or whatever.

And I think you've hit the nail on the head with ROI. Space exploration is uh-SPEN-siv, and to lay out those initial costs before there's any sort of public, commercial demand would be quite something.

Interesting side note - this is what happened with the railroads in the 19th century. No public demand, but some rich folks figured out lobbying and convinced the government to give them free land and cash to build something that had no demand.

Where on are all our space lobbyists?

Brian O'Rourke said...

Nate -

Looks like it's up to me and you.

We've fought greater odds before.