Last week we saw the end to the NASA’s Shuttle program (see Kate’s post). Phil Plait puts it well:
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.
Read the whole thing here.
He then goes on to suggest (and it seems in line with the President and Congress), that shuttling humans to space should now be done by the private sector.
A hand off to private industry seems a bit hollow considering that there is no company to hand off to. Besides that, there is quite a lack of monetary incentives (besides astronaut taxi fares, advertising, and rich folk tourism). Science and public excitement should be the motivator, so some mixture between private industry and research institutions are necessary.
We can follow the models of large international science collaborations like those in high energy physics. For example, the ATLAS collaboration, involves 38 countries and 174 universities and labs.
So let’s branch off the Shuttle Program’s personnel and resources from NASA back to universities, labs, and the private sector. And let’s use the existing launching facilities as an international science center, led by those who were just working on Atlantis. It will be a CERN for space shuttling.