by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Dec 21, 2011
Recent times have been troubling for the global spaceflight community. We have witnessed the end of the venerable Shuttle program, without an operational replacement vehicle for NASA. America's space agency lacks funding, support and overall direction.
Around the world, budgetary pressures are limiting the development of new missions, new technologies, and new spacecraft. Governments find themselves preoccupied with the larger financial problems plaguing the global economy, and have little time or money for spaceflight.
It's understandable that we could feel depressed under these conditions. These are probably the worst times that the spaceflight community has experienced in decades. But there's reason for hope. Although the near-term future will continue to be difficult, we are actually building the foundations for a much brighter future in space.
The earliest years of spaceflight were filled with novelty, excitement and generous funding. We could not expect conditions like this to last forever. We have also experienced indifference from governments and the general public, but there are plenty of worthy causes that also suffer the same fate.
Misguided management from governments and space agencies has also contributed to these problems. But this is common in organizations, both public and private.
Some of these bad decisions didn't fully hit spaceflight for decades after they were made. We are feeling the effects of poor long- term planning right now, but it's important to remember that much of this is the legacy of times past.
Admittedly, we could use more wisdom and nurturing right now. But insight into what works, and what doesn't work, is gradually being accumulated. Mostly, it's learned the hard way. We need to be realistic about the environment around us. The 1960s are history, and a program that cannot adapt to these harsh new realities is doomed.
Gradually, new technologies, new hardware and new ways of thinking are developing. The learning curve has sometimes been hard, as old ideas that worked for years must be revised or discarded.
We've seen development patterns like this before in other areas of human endeavor. Science, technology and knowledge does not always evolve at a steady pace.
History is full of cases where almost nothing new has been learned for centuries, and other cases where civilizations have wilfully plunged themselves backwards into ignorance. Spaceflight hasn't suffered this badly.
Yes, we want more. We should certainly have more. Spaceflight remains beneficial to so many aspects of human society, and it shouldn't be so easily targeted for cutbacks.
But we still live in a spacefaring civilization. Our planet is ringed with operational satellites. We have a huge, complex space station above us. Robot probes are presently exploring the Moon and the solar system. All of this has survived amid a turbulent assault of economics, politics and social changes. We have taken blows, but we are still standing.
The long-term effects of this baptism of fire, and the toughness it is breeding within the spaceflight community, will be outstanding. We are developing systems and practices that can survive in difficult times. The foundations of spaceflight are growing stronger.
It's difficult and it's often disheartening. But the spaceflight community is standing up against the most hostile conditions it has ever known. Things may actually become more difficult for a short time, but we will still be in action.
Eventually, this storm will pass. The world will become more receptive toward spaceflight. It will understand how important it is to the future of the planet and the human race. When the world turns to the spaceflight community for more services and solutions, we will be ready.
Those of you who work to preserve our spaceflight capabilities are doing an excellent task. You are not only performing well in the face of challenges. You are fighting a critical battle to save a vital part of our modern civilization.
You are carrying the marathon torch across a turbulent river, to ensure it will be passed on again for decades to come. Keep running. The ground beneath your feet will grow more solid. The world awaits your arrival. They will cheer when you take us to the stars.
Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst and writer. Email morrisjonesNOSPAMhotmail.com. Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email.
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