Manned Space Exploration The Immediate Future

This section discusses manned missions that are (almost) certain to happen in the next 30 years or so. The main elements of this vision are the following:

• The completion and operation of the ISS

• The resumption of manned exploration of the moon

• A manned mission to Mars

Despite a measure of age-induced cynicism regarding these objectives, I nevertheless have a reasonable level of confidence that they will happen. There does seem to be a degree of momentum behind these objectives, particularly with the January 2004 declaration by the incumbent U.S.

president of a new "Vision for Space Exploration''. There are other signs as well, such as the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in around 2010. The Space Shuttle has been the workhorse of the U.S. space program since its first flight in 1981, and its retirement may at first seem to be a negative development. However, this will actually force changes in the U.S. space program, and encourage a wide-ranging rethink of future objectives and how they can be achieved. This new vision appears to be having a reinvigorating effect on the space program as a whole.

The other main issue is the huge cost of the projects listed above. As such, we can reasonably question the viability of pursuing these goals. In the days of the Apollo moon landings, the huge financial burden was justified by a political motive. But today, in the absence of the Cold War and the political competition that it created, it is reasonable to ask—What can justify and motivate nations and taxpayers to spend huge amounts of money returning to the Moon or going to Mars? It is easy to get immersed in the exciting technical aspects of this vision for the future, but there is no easy answer to this question, to which we will return later.

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