This week NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden announced that the nation’s space agency now plans to develop a manned spacecraft to carry astronauts up to earth orbit. Lockheed Martin has been busy at work developing a new capsule at NASA’s direction for several years. Bolden’s announcement of a new capsule will build on LockMart’s current work.
The capsule will be part of a launch system that will include a new launch vehicle currently under development. The launch vehicle’s design essentially will return to the pre-space shuttle configuration used during the Apollo era and known as the ‘big, dumb, booster’. Technologically simple, reliable and cheap, BDB’s are a technology that is and has been employed by space farers since the Chinese first invented gunpowder. The new rocket booster is scheduled for completion in 2016. The announcement comes as the space shuttle program comes to a close with the final mission now scheduled for launch in early July.
In the same announcement, Bolden also stated that the capsule will be a significant part of NASA’s plan to concentrate on the big exploration challenges such as manned missions to an asteroid, the moon and eventually to Mars by the 2030's, while the more routine tasks such as ferrying cargo and astronauts to low earth orbit will be outsourced to the expanding compliment of commercial space service providers.
Bolden’s announcements underscore the changes underway in what should be regarded as the evolution of America’s space program, rather than the end or the ‘winding down’ of our program. If you take into account that we have been using the chemical rockets for more than 60 years to lift payloads and people to orbit and non-governmental space service contractors have adopted those same systems to launch payloads for profit for about 20 years, it makes sense that a large bureaucratic agency like NASA would consider outsourcing such a basic operation in an effort to cut its overhead and focus its attention and expertise on the bigger endeavors like manned interplanetary travel and exploration. When you think about it, outsourcing is what every major (and many minor corporations) have done to cut operational costs over the past decade.
So when you go out to see Space Station and Space Shuttle fly over your area during these last two missions of the shuttle program, don’t despair that our space program is coming to a close, it isn’t. It’s just evolving – like every other endeavor has had to do to remain current, vital, productive, innovative, and relevant. Why would we want a space program mired in past achievements and technologies anyway? Remember – evolution is good for technology also. After all, would you rather stay with a typewriter forever or move on to a laptop? I know what my answer is……what's yours?