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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Houston, We (Still) Have a Problem

It was just like old times. All the networks left the game shows for the launch. Even Oprah and Dr. Phil were preempted for the Return to Flight. And the launch was a thing of beauty.

Until the tile came off. Live. On International television. And the nearest tow truck is still in the hangar. Uh-oh.

NASA is working with technology from the '70's. Does anybody have anything left in their house from the '70's? I may have an old Superman comic book stashed away from that period, old and fading, crumpled around the edges, but that's about it.

That comic book and the Shuttle program have alot in common. Both are falling apart, and being maintained with tape and chewing gum. The difference is my comic book is stashed in a closet. The Shuttle is on TV, with men and women aboard her. Men and women who may be younger than the craft they are flying.

It's time to start over. It's time to jettison the worn out bureaucracy of NASA, and invest our space dollars where they can be effective. The X-Prize gave us a look at the future of space flight. Private enterprise can do it better, cheaper, and safer. An influx of funds from the Federal Government could jump start the private space industry with technology from this century. It would also get us to the Moon, and Mars much faster than a plodding NASA ever could.

It's time to reach for the stars by looking forward, instead of back to a bloated government entity long past it's glory days. It's time for private enterprise to take the lead in manned space flight. It's the best way to fulfill the dream so many of us have held dear for so long.

Update: 5:00pm
It looks like the debris did not hit the shuttle. That's good news, but doesn't change the fact that 40 years into manned space flight, we are still parked in low Earth orbit making sure 30 year old technology hasn't led to another disaster. A far cry from Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 dream.

Update: 7:30 pm

All Shuttle flights have been grounded until further notice. The peice of foam could have caused the same catastrophe as Columbia. It keeps getting worse for NASA.

On a more positive note is this.

British entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, has teamed up with aerospace designer, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites to form a new aerospace production company. The new firm will build a fleet of commercial suborbital spaceships and launch aircraft.Called The Spaceship Company, the new entity will manufacture launch aircraft, various spacecraft and support equipment and market those products to spaceliner operators. Clients include launch customer, Virgin Galactic—formed by Branson to handle space tourist flights.The Spaceship Company is jointly owned by Branson’s Virgin Group and Scaled Composites of Mojave, California. Scaled will be contracted for research and development testing and certification of a 9-person SpaceShipTwo design, and a White Knight Two (WK2) mothership to be called Eve. Rutan will head up the technical development team for the SS2/WK2 combination.
Space flight is coming. Just not the way NASA had planned.

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