Posting in Aerospace
'This is the first time since we've been a spacefaring nation that we're facing a real gap.'
NASA is winding down its three-decade-long space shuttle program, and is still mulling where to go next with human spaceflight. But if the time gap between the shuttle program and whatever replaces it is too long, we may lose some of our space travel industrial base, as well as the best and brightest in the industry.
That's the prognosis recently delivered by Jim Maser, president of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a unit of United Technologies Corporation. Underscoring the impact felt at his company alone, he said his company was already planning draconian cutbacks in human spaceflight division, as reported by Reuters:
"[Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne] already had plans to close half its office and factory space over the next three years, and might have to lay off hundreds of employees unless NASA mapped out a shuttle successor plan within the next four to eight months. The United Technologies Corp unit also winnowed its list of suppliers from 600 to 200 over the past year, Maser told reporters, underscoring his commitment to cutting costs and making space systems more affordable."
Maser's company won't be the only casualty -- a lack of progress would put many second and third tier suppliers out of the market, as well as the knowledgeable and skilled workers needed to build vehicles for exploring space. "This is the first time since we've been a spacefaring nation that we're facing a real gap," Maser said. "We're out of time."
Maser also said that commercial spaceflight sales had not reached levels that could compensate for delays in the NASA human spaceflight program. However, there is quite a bit of activity in enabling space tourism in suborbital flights by carriers such as Virgin Galactic.
For its part, NASA says it is committed to human spaceflight that accomplishes a number of objectives, including servicing the International Space Station, exploring the moon and Mars, as well as flybys of asteroids. The agency released a framework document that outlines four priorities, including a space launch system, or heavy lift rocket; a multi-purpose crew vehicle; commercial crew and cargo services to low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station; and mission-focused technologies to support expanded exploration capabilities in the future."
Mar 8, 2011
Developing a replacement for the space shuttle would distract NASA from their primary mission as outlined in the Obama Administrations 2012 budget. Working with Middle East nations to embrace in their history of scientific work.
unless NASA mapped out a shuttle successor plan within the next four to eight months. It will be at least forty to eighty months if not years to do that and then only if congress gets off it's but and gives them big $$$.
The Apollo project as well as the goal of manned space flight to the moon was a rare government project that finished the goal ahead of schedule and under budget. Learning how to get to the moon produced many positive spinoffs that helped make things from teflon to micro electronics. After Apollo 11 returned to earth is when the debate about spending money for better causes began. People lost interest in space exploration even while the technology made great gains in their lives. The shuttle program was not ambitious enough. It was a big difference in building the international space station in low earth orbit as well as launching many satellites including the Hubble telescope. Compared to the first 10 years of space exploration, the last 30 years was quite timid. A new space vehicle could have been designed 15 to 20 years ago to replace the shuttles and be in use now. It is sad that the shuttles are going to be turned into museum pieces like the last Saturn V rocket was turned into a lawn ornament.
We as a country are losing our intellectual drive. Both grown ups and young people don't want to think. Just give me my iPad and let Twitter and Facebook. Pretty soon the US will be full of fat slugs lying on our cots consuming media content like the spaceship passengers in Wall-E. If we as a nation don't aspire to more then slug-dom we'll fade into obscurity.