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article imageOp-Ed: America quits race for space

By Brian Ringland     May 9, 2011 in Science
It's official. America has left the space race. Once Endeavour is cleared for launch and its mission completed NASA's shuttle program will be over.
The Allen Telescope Array, run by the SETI Institute near Mt. Shasta, has had its funding cut, leaving the project shutdown with its array of radio telescopes turned off, deaf, and pointing towards the ground. Last month, the project ran out of funding, another victim of shrinking grants and the current financial climate that pervades the country. The giant array was used to listen to radio signals from certain areas of the cosmos in hopes that a signal from an intelligent race would be discovered.According to the Los Angeles Times a small crew has been left to take care of the observatory and keep it from deteriorating in the elements.
SETI is trying desperately to find other sources of funding in order to keep the project alive. This makes sense when you consider the data being returned from the Kepler Space telescope that is currently finding stars that have planets orbiting them. The data from Kepler could be used by the Allen Array to scan certain candidate stars that Kepler has found to have planetary systems.
NASA is also now winding down the 30-year-old shuttle program, the end of a another chapter in NASA's history. The shuttle program had its failures as well as its successes. For three decades the space shuttle fleet served NASA's needs in low orbit. It was a difficult system set to maintain however. The cost of maintaining the shuttle fleet was enormous. The logistics of running such an intricate and complicated delivery system eventually meant the end of the program. However, one can't deny what was learned from the shuttle program, .
NASA's next delivery subsystem will more than likely have a lot less than two million parts made by thousands of different contractors that all tried to put in the lowest cost bid when making a bid for the NASA contracts. The final space shuttle flight has not been able to get off of the ground. A failed fuse box and other issues has forced NASA to abandon the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. As reported in ZDNet News, the launch has been delayed again, to no earlier than May 16. Endeavour's launch for a servicing mission to the International Space Station, officials said .
Any new manned missions to the moon have been cancelled. Nasa's newly proposed launch delivery vehicle has also had its funding cut and the program cancelled. For the time being the current administration has decided to cut funding and focus on unmanned and inexpensive missions that have a high return for value. Missions to asteroids and comets are in the early planning stages. A new Mars rover, much larger than the two highly successful rovers that are still on Mars, will be launched soon. There are no planned manned missions.
The United States no longer has the ability get its own people to its own space station in low earth orbit. We will be relying on the Russian space program in all of its elegant simplicity, to taxi us into low earth orbit. It won't be cheap either. The Russians have recently raised the price of what they charge for each astronaut to be ferried into orbit.
NASA is now pinning its hope on up and coming private American companies that will soon have developed the technology to deliver cargo into orbit. NASA will contract out to those private companies to ferry goods as well as astronauts to the space station. The last flight of the space shuttle Atlantis in mid - July will mark the end of an era. The era of active manned space exploration by Americans is over. At least for now. We can't justify calling ourselves explorers if have to hitch a ride in order to get there. From the challenge of President Kennedy to the success of the Hubble telescope the space program has always been there, in the background. Pushing the envelope and going to places that we all dream of going.
How sad that such a noble pursuit should fall victim to a dwindling profit margin. We have given up on space and in a sense maybe a little bit on ourselves as well.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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