Inspiration Lost: NASA and the Future of Humanity in Space.

Everytime I think I’m losing my interest in space something always comes along to bring me right back into that almost dream like state I first had when I decided that leaving this blue marble was my lifetime goal. Whether it be pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, a few readings from the Mars Exploration Rovers or even a discovery that might one day lead us faster than light travel I can’t doubt myself for more than a day before I reminded of the beautiful, complex and ever changing universe that we live in. It is my fervent hope that I can one day instill such passion in a wide majority of the world, and the beginnings of that are contained in this blog.

However I understand that we don’t live in a world that is governed solely by one man’s desires and hopes. In this world that is ruled by politics, economics and raw resources we have work within these constructs in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Unfortunately in the case of NASA these rules have led from it being a source of inspiration for humanity worldwide to a struggling organisation who can barely make the headlines. Whilst some might say that this is because there are bigger problems to solve here on terra firma I and many others would disagree:

Tyson echos a sentiment I’ve held for quite a while now. Born well after the initial space race and in the remote location of Australia I was cut off from the world of space for a very long time. My earliest memory of having anything to do with space was a night of astronomy when I was about 8 years old, seeing a bright red dot through a large contraption I had no understanding of. It would be another 4 years before my next brief experience of space when I saw Mission to Mir on the IMAX screen in Sydney. After then I can not think of one experience I had with space until a couple years back, when I discovered my passion for space and all things to do with it.

After the dizzying heights that were reached when NASA was formed to win the space race it has taken a slow downhill course to irrelevance. No longer are they charged with pushing the boundaries of what we are capable in space, more they are responsible for a very expensive transport business with a small dabbling of science on the side. This is why they are no longer the inspiration they once were, every they do is routine. For decades now NASA has been in a position to cast off its routine duties and begin clawing at the edges of space, just like it did so long ago. We have the chance to do so much yet such a comparatively small cost is too great for those who have the ability to pay for it.

Maybe I’m just nostalgic for a time that I didn’t live through, but after going so long not knowing about the tremendous benefits that NASA and its projects brought to our world and then finally discovering them I can’t help but feel that the everyman is in the same situation. As a species we seem so focused on the immediate problems of our world that we tend to forego looking up and seeing the direction we should be moving in, leaving us only to tread the paths we’ve been down before. It would seem that collectively we’re incapable of drastic change over a prolonged period of time.

The point remains however that should NASA axe its human space program that it will become irrelevant in the public’s eye. Whilst we have had a tremendous amount of success with robotic exploration missions they fail to grab the attention of the everyman as they can not identify with them. Whilst I lament the idea of flag planting missions they serve to inspire the generation of their time to achieve such lofty goals which, if continued over an extended period of time, leads to a feedback loop of epic proportions. Had NASA continued along the same path as it did when it was first created there’s no telling where we would be today, but there’s no use dwelling on the past.

Despite this we are on the cusp of another revolution in space which the fledgling private space industry is responsible for. We have so many companies that are now willing to do the job that only NASA was capable of just a decade ago that soon NASA will have no choice but to give way to them. Once they have done this they can refocus their efforts on pushing the limits of technology like they once did and hopefully see them return to their rightful spot as the most inspirational government organisation mankind has ever seen. Just that thought alone is enough to keep a dreamer like myself going even when NASA seems to be going through the darkest times.

My thanks go out to my friend Glen for linking the video that inspired this post.

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