With the landing last week of America’s last space shuttle, the nation stands at a critical point in the history of space exploration. For some, the last flight of Atlantis — a mission officially designated as STS-135, was “bittersweet,” as one writer termed it. The landing of Atlantis may presage a difficult era in the “Space Age,” or it may herald the beginning of the end of the government’s virtual monopoly on mankind’s exploration of the heavens.
As reported previously for The New American, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has been marked by significant controversy regarding both the future of his agency, and the future of manned space flight. The Obama administration quickly killed George Bush’s “Constellation” program, which had set a return to the Moon and an eventual mission to Mars as part of U.S. space policy. However, NASA’s new, Obama-era goals quickly put the Moon and Mars back on the timetable — but pushed them farther away. Meanwhile, NASA’s budget remains fundamentally stable, despite the end of a shuttle program which had previously consumed a substantial portion of the budget. As Mike Wall recently wrote in an article for Space.com:
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Photo: The SpaceX Dragon privately built rocket.