End of a dream

The long-expected decision has been made.  After the Augustine commission published its findings last year, it was clear that the Constellation program to take human spaceflight “To the moon, mars and beyond” was doomed.  Today’s confirmation was simply the start of the end.

I was born six months after Apollo 13’s famous ‘Houston, we have a problem’.  Hmm, I’ve just checked and I was born 9.5 months after Apollo 12’s flight.. something you want to tell me Mom!

I’ve lived with NASA’s triumphs and tragedies.  I remember looking in the sky at the park I used to play at when Skylab was due to crash back to Earth, and I remember the landing of the first space shuttle flight, Columbia in 1981, and a few years later I was watching BBC Newsround’s coverage of the launch of Challenger when it exploded so devestatingly after take-off.  

(Another memory, the shuttle that never went to space, Enterprise, arrived at Birmingham airport when I was about 12. My Dad was working in an office in Birmingham at the time and saw it, I was in a pottery lesson, the one classroom in school that had no windows.)

And I was there watching Sky News as Columbia disintegrated over huge swathes of the American countryside.  I remember texting friends at the time, and whilst they acknowledged it was sad, they clearly didn’t feel the impact that it had on me.

But shortly after, a Vision for Space Exploration was published.  This was the era of pdf downloads, and I’ve spent far too much time since 2003 looking at the huge number of documents that have been published.  Those who follow it closely knew the shortcomings of the Constellation program.  It was designed to keep the people who worked on the shuttle program employed, by making the solid rocket boosters almost the same as the shuttle SRB. 

The worst thing that NASA did through the development of the Ares rocket and Orion capsule was to call new Orion capsule ‘Apollo on steroids’.  This was picked up negatively by many press pundits, and as many of the innovative features of the original Orion capsule were watered down (literally, a water based landing instead of the much cheaper, soviet-based earth landing, and the reusability of the Orion capsule itself came under scrutiny), it was clear that Orion, even if it did take off in 2015, would still be seen as a ‘dead duck’.  The retro-look is fine for telephones, not for space capsules which people’s lives depended upon.

Where now?  Private enterprise seems to be the key, and NASA may find itself transforming from a space ‘agency’ to a procurement of services.  We can’t forget the huge amount of work that is done in the area of unmanned missions to the planets, and the plethora of satellites which orbit the earth under the control of NASA, but it wasalways the manned spaceflight, the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs which captured people’s imaginations.

When I heard the outcome of the review, and President Obama’s decision, I tweeted ‘there goes my chance of retiring to the moon’.  There already is a generation who have grown up without knwing the excitment of watching a moon landing (I was two when man last set foot there), may there be a generation soon that can’t even remember when man went into space?

I have read enough science fiction to know the difficulties of space travel, and if I had succeeded in completing NaNoWriMo I would have been able to add my own small body of work (the novel would have covered the next fifty years of manned spaceflight, if Obama had closed down NASA’s manned spaceflight program – prophetic eh!).  Let’s hope that I can look back at this article in five years time and recognise how bleak my outlook was.

Until then, try and catch the moon in the early evening over the next few days.  The bright non-shining star at about 7 o’clock assuming the moon is at the centre of the clock-face.  That’s Mars.

Maybe one day.


1 comment so far

  1. Andy Hollyhead on

    As a quick update to the above, NASA’s very positive view on the cancelling of the Constellation program can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html

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