When space shuttle Atlantis touched down for the final time at Kennedy Space Center, it signified the official end of NASA’s space shuttle program. The moment Atlantis landed also marked when uncertainty started over the future of human spaceflight into the 21st century and beyond.
The United States has always been committed to the advancement of technology. It is entrenched in America’s psyche. The idea that nature can be harnessed and brought under control using scientific ideas and methods served as a catalyst for the inventions and innovations that have shaped our world and our society. However, in today’s economic climate and self-centered culture, there is a sense that continued space exploration is not important enough to contemplate in the minds of average Americans.
The NASA authorization Act of 2010, signed by President Barack Obama, authorizes $58 billion for NASA programs through 2013. The law “supports an overall growth in science, aeronautics and space technology and defines a long-term goal for human spaceflight to expand a permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit.” The act is a significant step in the right direction. The act also describes the Space Launch System (SLS), the replacement for the space shuttle program. The SLS will use transformed Ares I and Ares V vehicles to launch cargo and people into space.
There have been thousands of technologies that were pioneered during NASA’s quest for understanding space. Memory foam, cordless tools, smoke detectors, scratch-resistant lenses and computer microchips are all examples of inventions that we routinely use in our day-to-day lives. Without the space program, none of these would exist, neither would many medical treatments credited to space travel.
It is a human need to explore beyond what we know and hold to be true. To push human technological progress forward into and beyond this century, as a global society we must continue to explore space, seek out new scientific frontiers and to borrow a star trek reference, ‘to boldly go where no one has gone before.’