In reply to the point about safety, an argument can be made that NASA has been too concerned about safety to enable rapid technological progress. This has led to extremely expensive high-profile development that cannot have failures without extreme condemnation. The fastest way to learn is through failure! What if aviation had been forced to develop with the same constraints?
Of course it is high risk. Let's make progress with a balanced approach to managing risk, not trying to eliminate the risk.
There is a lot of hue and cry over the loss of jobs from the closure of the Space Shuttle program. But considering the fact that the responsibilities of the Space Shuttle Program to ferry humans to LEO is now being given to the private sector and companies like SpaceX it only means that the jobs are going from NASA to SpaceX.
I think the handing over of responsibilities of LEO journeys to the private sector can be made so that the loss of jobs in NASA can be now absorbed in the private sector. Any reasons why this cant be done ?
And by doing this NASA can focus on Space Exploration and Research the way it was meant to be initially.
Also as far as loss of lives being more in private sector goes, I dont agree with that. The accidents that took place in NASA's history were a result of complacency and not lack of money. As the Edgar Mitchell stated, a mandatory transfer of all the safety protocols from NASA to the private sector will go a long way in avoiding such disasters in the future.
Give SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, United Launch Alliance, etc the chance to service the ISS and launch orbital satellites, meanwhile give NASA the heavier task of going back to the Moon. As the private carriers develop their capabilities over time, they can extend their services farther and farther, taking over more and more. But let NASA be the icebreaker ship that breaks the path first, allowing these smaller fishing/trade boats to follow in its wake. As for Mars, it's really too difficult to pursue until the latter half of this century.
Water ice has recently been discovered on the Moon, our nearest neighbor which is only 3 days away. Had an Apollo 13 type of accident occurred on the way to Mars, there's no way the crew would have survived. Why is it necessary to keep flitting from one heavenly body to the next like a playboy suffering from ADD, without taking time or making a commitment to explore a particular one more thoroughly? It's not as if the Moon is a tiny body that has nothing left to reveal - there's plenty left to still explore.
And how many missions did they fly safely? NASA is not driven by profit and is extremely risk adverse... Given the realities of business where profit is the name of the game and having worked for companies that are less than enthused about safety before profits, I would say the safety argument tilts in favor of NASA...
That is the same organization that took man to the moon and safely back again.
Criticize if you will, but remember that space flight is unforgiving, risky and getting there and back safely is not as simple as it may seem...
"""Critics have also warmed that turning over low-Earth orbit mission to commercial launchers will compromise safety. Veteran space watcher John Pike has gone so far as to predict that astronauts will be killed riding commercial rockets."""
So how many were killed by the NASA run shuttle program? Fourteen men and women in two disasters by my count.
Forget the moon; we've been there already and it's a hostile wasteland that has no known resources (water, gases) and has ghastly temperature swings.
Mars, on the other hand, has usable compounds. About 20 years ago I read a clever proposal from NASA to send a fuel synthesizer to Mars ahead of a manned crew, to produce methane fuel and breathing/propulsion oxygen from available CO2 and sunlight. This solves the biggest problem: having energy for the mission and safe return.
The technical challenges of a manned mission to Mars today are probably less than the challenges we faced in the 1960's with the successful Apollo program. The real problem is the politicians who prefer to spend money on an unjustified war and Wall Street bailouts.
If, as suggested, China is the futue of manned spaceflight, what do readers think about trying to work with China, as we do with Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency, to move beyond Earth orbit?
There have been no shortage of goals, strategies, plans and "visions". I am old enough to remember "Mars by 1984!". Now the USA cannot even do what it did 40 years ago. My money is on China. To date the entire Chinese space program has cost an estimated $10billion, or around about 7 months of NASA's annual budget. God only knows how NASA manages to spray all that cash up the wall with so little to show for it.