The Watering Hole: July 21 – Space

Earthrise from Apollo 8,  Christmas Eve, 1968

On this date in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon, during the Apollo 11 mission (July 20th in North America). This fulfilled a goal set by John F Kennedy on April 20, 1961.

What made the space race unique was the willingness of NASA to accept new technologies when they were proven in the civilian market. The typical military procurement would have delayed the process into the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.

Thee Soviet Union launched the world’s first space station, Salyut 1, in 1971 – a decade after launching the first human into space. The United States sent its first space station, the larger Skylab, into orbit in 1973 and it hosted three crews before it was abandoned in 1974.  Plans were drawn up to refurbish and reuse Skylab, using the Space Shuttle to boost its orbit and repair it; however, in 1979, before the shuttle was ready, Skylab reentered Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated. Russia continued to focus on long-duration space missions and in 1986 launched the first modules of the Mir space station.

Now the shuttle program has been shuttered and the US must rely on Russian vehicles to carry crew to the International Space Station and for their return to Earth.

Is it right for the United States to enter a hiatus between space applications.  Why can’t we retire systems only after their successors are in place? Money is important, but when national pride is in the calculation things should be changed. Under the current plan, the US will, in effect, be funding the entire Russian space program for the next 4 or 5 years.

This is our Open Thread. Your own comments are more than welcome – any subject will do.