Commentary by Mike Mackowski
Where there is a fork in the road, take both paths.
I’m not sure where I heard that fractured bit of advice, but America’s future in space is going to require going along multiple paths, and folks arguing government versus commercial endeavors are just wasting their breath. We are going to need both.
Last week NASA had a successful test flight of the Orion deep space vehicle, which is intended to take people beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). Sure, the destinations and the other equipment needed are still surrounded in uncertainty, but having a large capsule that can handle reentry from interplanetary trajectories is part of the puzzle that will be needed. So the success is encouraging, and the publicity gained is a shot in the arm for NASA. The rhetoric (“we are on our way to Mars”) may be a bit overblown, but it’s all about marketing, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, next week SpaceX hopes to land the first stage of a Falcon 9 booster on a barge in the Atlantic. This is the next step in their plan to develop reusable boosters. If the private space segment can develop reliable reusable boosters without government research funds, which would be an impressive achievement. It goes without saying that reducing the cost to orbit is crucial to establishing a sustainable program of space development that can lead to permanent space settlements, no matter where they may be. Let’s hope that test is successful as well.
I try not to see these progressive test programs as competing. We are going to need cheaper reusable rockets and more capable deep space craft that can carry a crew beyond LEO. Let’s get behind both efforts and not constantly find things to criticize. I see a lot of this bickering and belittling in the various space blogs and it’s tiresome.