19 May 2009

Eye in the Sky

The world is full of good news, it just gets drowned out sometimes. Fixing the Hubble Space Telescope is good news. This is the end of the Space Shuttle. NASA says its next step forward is Constellation, which involves a new launch vehicle, new orbiter, and a new mission. I'm not sure we'll ever get the scientific payoff from human space missions that will compare to Hubble or Voyager or Cassini or the Mars Rovers or any of the spectacular achievements of the last few decades involving robotic craft. Those vehicles may not have men or women inside them as they fly through space or orbit a planet, but they are surely not "unmanned." The enormous human capital required to design, build, fly and maintain these things surely makes that a misnomer. Human spaceflight is a funny thing. Forty years ago the nation was captivated by Apollo X, the penultimate moon mission. Today's Shuttle missions don't generate the excitement of exploration that intoxicated everyone during the moon landings. The new generation of manned space journeys will most likely not recapture those feelings, but there will be a heightened sense of urgency as our world struggles with environmental degradation and overpopulation. NASA knows that the probes and instruments will tell us what we need to know, but that the people won't buy it without a human face. I hope I get to see it all unfold. Meanwhile, bravo to the astronauts and the ground crews and the thinkers and planners and technicians for what they accomplished this week. The Eye in the Sky still sees.

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