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Too Early To Retire The Shuttles?

It looks like the shuttle debate is back on. Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, has introduced a bill in congress to postpone retirement of the space shuttle program, as mentioned in an article in InformationWeek today. Bailey claims that ending the shuttle program would cause the U.S. to take a back seat to Russia and China in terms of space research and missions. The shuttle program has been due to end later this year without opposition, until now.

The problem with ending the shuttle program now is that we don’t have a vehicle to replace the 3 shuttles currently in operation. The Constellation program was intended to replace the shuttles with the Orion spacecraft after their retirement. However, president Obama proposed the cancellation of the Constellation program on February 1 of this year due to it’s being “over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation”.

So maybe the 6 people aboard the International Space Station can rely on China and Russia for their needs. But what’s going to happen when one of the 32 GPS satellites has a problem, or one of the 8 U.S. weather satellites goes down? Who is going to clean the lenses on the Chandra X-Ray and Hubble space telescopes?

I don’t have any problems working with other countries, but it’s bad enough that we’ve been losing our jobs oversees, let alone our space program, the bold symbol of friendly competition that is held by only a handful of elite countries on this planet. In the 1960’s we had a dream to go into space and to put a man on the moon, and after years of trial and error, after trillions of dollars invested, we’ve succeeded. Many of the luxuries that we have today came as a result of the space race: GPS, satellite TV, and weather information to name a few. And now we’re just going to give that up because it costs too much? Why does it seem like we keep spending money on other countries, and cutting the budgets at home?

Yes, cutting government funding for space operations will spur more business for private space companies. The problem, however, is that I can count on one hand the number of successful reusable spacecraft that have been developed by private companies. It is probably not a very good idea to cut funding to programs when we haven’t yet figured out how to make up for them.

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