Hey Space Placers!
With the last day of 2010 just hours away I thought I would reflect with you on what I thought was the "biggest" astronomy-space story of the year. I offer no justification for my selection except that it is a personal opinion.
History will record that the direction of the US manned space program changed, for better or worse, in 2010 with the Obama Administration cancelling the Constellation Program - or at least the majority of it.
In 2004 President Bush set in motion the goal that the US return to the Moon to explore and stay this time via robotic and manned missions. Once accomplished this would provide the experience and hardware necessary to try for a manned Mars mission some decades later.
Constellation - http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/main/index.html - was created to accomplish these goals and NASA put it all into motion. The new Administration wanted a comprehensive review done on Constellation and then would decide what to do based on the recommendations. The Augustine Commission completed its review -http://legislative.nasa.gov/396093main_HSF_Cmte_FinalReport.pdf - and in October 2010 The President signed into law Constellation's demise.
NASA is still waiting for further guidance from the Administration and Congress as to where and what it should do. In the meantime precious money is still being spent as required on Constellation - http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/12/29/nasa-spending-half-billion-dollars-canceled-ares-rocket/
Commercialization of manned spaceflight is getting close to reality and NASA may be out of the low earth orbit - taxi service to the International Space Station (ISS). The recent launch by Space X of its Falcon 9 rocket and attached Dragon capsule is getting close to giving the US a means to get people and cargo to ISS and not rely on expensivee Russian Soyuz flights.
But will the US make good the talk of going to asteroids via a manned mission? Will required hardware and political will of the President AND Congress be there????? I truly don't know but I doubt it. Manned spaceflight is going to be such a low priority with the incoming and sure to be infighting Congress that the 2, possibly 3 remaining shuttle flights will be it for NASA as a manned spaceflight entity for some time to come. There is money to be made via commercialization of maned spaceflight so that will be the prime time concern of Congress and the accompanying politics/lobbyists.
I had hoped to see the day when US astronauts walked and colonized the Moon. Instead, I will see Taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) doing so. They have the money and political will to do so and will probably get to the Moon in a decade. The Helium 3 and other resources of the Moon will be theirs. Do you think China will act in the best interests of all humanity while they are the only country on the Moon?
History will look at 2010 as a watershed moment in the history of the manned spaceflight program of the US - one way or the other. Only time and political will tell.
Have a safe and joyous New Year celebration wherever you are.
Sky Guy in VA