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The evacuation of outer space

Will humans voyage beyond our blue planet?

By E.J. Maliskas [ Tue Aug 30 2011 5:14 PM ]

Atlantis lifts off
Atlantis lifts off

Space is still the final frontier. But it seems mankind is no longer going—even where others have already gone before. On Feb. 1, 2010, the Obama administration announced the cancellation of the Constellation program, taking with it all of NASA's foreseeable return-to-the-moon plans.

The final NASA shuttle, Atlantis, launched on Friday, July 8. And late last week, rumors began circulating about the possibility that the International Space Station may go unmanned in the wake of a Russian supply ship crash.

ISS
The International Space Station

In the middle of last week, the Soyuz rocket, which carries both unmanned cargo vehicles and crew modules, experienced a booster failure and crashed in eastern Russia just minutes after launch. The failure raised safety concerns and has pushed officials to consider running entirely unmanned operations starting as early as November.

An evacuation of the ISS would mean that the number of humans currently in space would drop straight to zero.

So what do these cancellations and evacuations really mean? Is this really the end of human space exploration as we know it? Many remain optimistic: NASA chief Charles Bolden declared in July that the end of the space shuttle program is not the end of human spaceflight. He was confident that private spaceflight firms—New Mexico’s own Spaceport America, for instance—will pick up the responsibility of taking humans to space and back. NASA has also recently opened their new office, the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, which will oversee deep-space manned missions.

Other groups have embraced the end of human spaceflight and encourage others to do so as well. Michael Lind of Salon.com declares that “if God wanted us to live in outer space, we wouldn't have inner ears.”

Whether these changes truly mark the end of an era is uncertain, but it is clear that many things will change moving forward. The commercialization of spaceflight means fewer scientists and more vacationers; less exploration and more recreation. It may no longer be the international space programs' main responsibility to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before”.