seeing all of these amazing images of the space shuttle makes me sad because while the photos are beautiful the fact that we don’t have a replacement — or a worthy manned space exploration program — is in fact very sad and shows a lack of vision
According to NASA, the Endeavor cost $1.7b to build and each mission costs $450m. It was an amazing system for its day, but, like the early 1970′s U.S. automotive industry – the rest of world is producing systems that perform the International Space Station resupply missions for a fraction of the cost and risk.
The analogy to the automotive industry is doubly appropriate, since Japan is also at the forefront of the evolution in efficient, low cost space systems. Their Kounotori transfer vehicle is a robotic system that navigates nearly 5 tons of supplies to within 40-feet of the ISS, where it is retrieved using the space station’s robotic arm. Russia and the European Space Agency have similar systems.
30 Years of Technological Innovation
A lot of happened since the shuttle first flew in 1981, including TCP/IP and the worldwide Internet, low-power computer chips with more computing power and on-chip memory than the space shuttle’s five box-sized computers, and GPS – just to name a few. In fact, the technology behind sending a semi-autonomous vehicle 200 miles into space to dock with the orbiting ISS is no longer only within the realm of wealthy governments. Just this year, California based SpaceX became the first company to send cargo to the ISS using its own privately-developed system.
What does all of mean for the future of space travel? Like early computers and ARPANET (predecessor of today’s Internet), once government-only technologies transition to the private sector, innovation and adoption occurs rapidly. My generation may not experience widespread public space travel, but certainly my kids will see it.