Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mind the (human spaceflight) gap

So, the Shuttle retirement means that there will be a gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability.

It's happened before. I was born in a gap. A 7-year gap, when the U.S. didn't launch any people at all.

A gap doesn't phase me.  Not at all.  We've been launching shuttles for 30 years, and talking about the shuttle-2 or next derivative nearly as long.  If a gap is what it takes to move us on to the next technology/ies, I'm all for it.  Just so long as we don't quit.

Now, that doesn't mean that a gap is easy on anyone.  Change is hard.  Especially the uncertainties that surround job loss and job searches.  The rough economy.

But with ISS continuing to orbit, with Americans remaining in space 24/7, I'm not entirely convinced I would call this, or the Columbia return-to-flight era, a gap.  There certainly seems to be more human spaceflight going on now than there was during the gap when I was born.

Now, I've heard arguments that there is no program going to replace the Shuttle.  But that isn't really true either.  Commercial Crew Development  vehicles are in work.

And, for that matter, I know that I watched the Scaled Composites SpaceShip One flights for the Ansari X-Prize with anticipation.  Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites are working on SpaceShip Two now.

Perhaps I'm influenced too much by Michael Flynn's Firestar saga.  Let there be a mix: commercial spaceflight, government spaceflight, a dozen different companies.