It’s fashionable to say the Shuttle program was a failure — too expensive, too limited. But progress is not a steady curve. Not all steps are leaps.
At the time the Shuttles were proposed, small, lean private companies able to build rockets like SpaceX didn’t exist — but these companies owe their existence to the environment NASA helped create.
Things are different now, however, and the era of something like the Shuttle should be behind us. The Shuttle missions were billed as routine, but NASA shouldn’t be doing the routine. The role of our space agency is to innovate, invent, design, push the limits, cross the borders. And once that’s done, once it becomes routine, they should hand it over to others.
Let private companies take over low Earth operations, and let NASA be free to pursue literally loftier goals. What the President and what Congress want isn’t all that different, and we shouldn’t let inaction leave us with no vision. NASA’s future does depend on the decisions made in the next year or two. If nothing is done, then nothing will get done.
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