I often wonder about the way technology has taken humanity to the stars – or low Earth orbit anyway – and how that technology seems to have been surrendered for lack of funding or interest on the part of politicians.
The technology which sends robot spacecraft to the outer reaches of the solar system is awesomely powerful and almost infinitely complex, and great leaps in understanding how to send reliable robotic spacecraft on multi-year journey’s to the outer planets have been made. Yet listening to news reports today regarding the last repair to the Hubble Space Telescope, I can’t help but wonder why, as the report stated that this latest visit to Hubble will be the last, that needs to be so.
Thirty years ago, humanity could send three astronauts to the moon, land, explore and return. Today, it seems the risks of sending seven people into an orbit 600kms out, to repair one of science’s most valuable observing tools, are so enormous as to almost have been out of the question. By the end of 2011, that ability will no longer exist. Effectively, manned spaceflight, or the ability to engage in complex manned spaceflight missions, will no longer exist with the retirement of the three remaining space shuttles.
Certainly, supply capsules for the International Space Station will still be provided by the Russian Space Agency, and crew exchanges will still take place via vessels provided by the RSA, but low Earth orbit construction and space technology advancements the likes of Hubble’s repair, will effectively cease. I know it’s only a hiatus of a decade or so, but can’t help wondering just how badly NASA or RSA budgets will be cut in the interim if there are no driving projects pushing technological advancement. Robots are incredibly clever vehicles, but only a human being can discover how far a human being can go, in space.