Now that the Space Shuttle Program has concluded; ‘safeing‘ of the three remaining operational craft, Endeavour, Discovery, and Atlantis, (Columbia and Challenger suffered loss of vehicle and crew) (shuttle Enterprise, never flew into space) dismantling of the orbiters OMS pods, and storage of the vehicles occupies what’s left of the NASA shuttle workforce, and astronaut corps.
Also, in this photo: Mobile Launcher Platform, Crawler-transporter can be see. (upper left)
Major questions remain; e.g., what is to become of the manned space program, Constellation, and the Ares I rocket? Decommissioning and demolition of Launch Complex 39B, is already underway.
NASA is going ahead with plans to bring down the fixed and rotating service structures at pad 39B, even though the Ares I rocket and the entire Constellation program are being axed.
see also: Kennedy Space Center – Google Maps
Uncertainty and criticism.
A combination of engineering obstacles and a trillion dollar budget short-fall, conspired to doom NASA’s Constellation program, including the Ares V, all effectively canceled, in October 2010, by the passage of the 2010 NASA authorization bill.
“It’s a very dynamic time, and a lot of folks aren’t real comfortable with all the uncertainties… None of us are.” –Peggy Whitson, Chief Astronaut, Johnson Space Center
Obama’s 2011 budget request eliminated the Constellation’s rocket, crew capsule, and the Ares I man-rated and Ares V heavy-lift vehicles. In their place it; funnels billions of dollars to ‘new spaceflight technologies‘, and outsources to commercial firms, the task of ferrying astronauts to low-Earth orbit.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) says that under Obama’s strategy “America’s decades-long dominance of space will finally come to an end.”
The Lab, wonders about what NASA has already spent developing these new systems.
- $9 billion into the development of a new rocket, Ares I, and a new spacecraft, the Orion.
- Terminating the program and closing out contracts will cost $2.5 billion more.
Will the R&D transfer to private sector contractors or be shelved?
Elon Musk, an American engineer, and entrepreneur, is best known for co-founding PayPal, and SpaceX, and is the original investor in Tesla Motors.
“The problem with Constellation was that success was not one of the possible outcomes…”
Of course, he would say that. Musk, who funded the first viable production electric car–the Tesla Roadster–is designing a private successor to the Space Shuttle, designated the F9/Dragon.
Absent the shuttle, and budgetary realities aside, what if anything, has really changed? NASA will still oversee the astronaut corps, all-be-it with significantly reduced numbers of active duty astronauts. The space agency will still be in charge of outsourcing; something they’re all ready quite familiar with. True, the names of the spacecraft have certainly changed, but except for a slip in the time-line, the mission goals remain the same, i.e., regular trips to LEO, the ISS, developing new craft and technology, a manned mission to an asteroid, and then–on to Mars.
What have we learned?
Anxious astronauts and Washington politicos not withstanding; The Lab concludes; the US will remain a space-faring nation, but not before some much needed house keeping, and prioritizing.
Keep watching the skies!
[developing story... stay tuned]
see also: NASA Announces New Homes for Space Shuttle Orbiters After Retirement, 2 NASA Space Shuttles Meet Nose-to-Nose, Launch pad demolition paves way for uncertain transition, Astronaut Corps Shrink as Shuttles Stop