question of the weekend: The space shuttle program is over, NASA’s budget is getting slashed: what’s the next big thing in space?

Yesterday, the final space shuttle mission was launched. When Endeavor returns to Earth, that’ll be it for the shuttle program.

The shuttle has been a part of my geeky life since its beginning. I vividly remember all its milestones — good and bad, from Sally Ride becoming the first American woman in space to the Challenger and Columbia disasters. The day the shuttle program picked up again after Challenger, September 29, 1988, happened to be the day I had a job interview that would end up launching me in my career in publishing: I would never have remembered the precise date, as important as that day turned out to be in my life, if it hadn’t been for my excitement over the shuttle launch that day.
Worse than the end of the shuttle program, NASA just took a huge hit in the U.S. Congress. From Geekosystem:

In what feels like a completely endless debate about how the government should support its science agencies during economic hardship, it seems as though NASA is set to be the sacrificial lamb of budget balancing with almost $2 billion in cuts. Congress has just released its Appropriations bill that gives their views on how much federal money NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) should be given. Massive cuts are called for across the board, but no agency is set to lose as much as NASA.

The budget cut suggested by the house is 8.8% of NASA’s total budget. Now, because the Space Shuttle program is ending and the shuttles are being retired, cuts to NASA’s budget could certainly have been expected. According to Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy, the end of the shuttle program could have warranted as much as $1 billion in funding cuts. But the budget calls for $2 billion in cuts. So, what is on the chopping block?

The House bill states that all funding, in its entirety, will be yanked from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The telescope was set to be the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope. The JWST has been an ongoing project for years, and has experienced budget, schedule and management problems. But the project currently has all the pieces built, which are undergoing assembly, and NASA has shown dedication to the project and attempted to fix some of the problems that have plagued it.


The space shuttle program is over, NASA’s budget is getting slashed: what’s the next big thing in space?

I feel that unless the U.S. realigns its priorities away from endless war and back toward science and exploration, it’s over as a spacefaring nation. The 21st century in space will be Chinese, I suspect: I bet they’ll put a man (and probably a woman) on Mars by 2025.

Just my guess. What do you think?

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