It may be painful to be left without a means for Americans to get in to space (aside from bumming a ride on a Soyuz), but something needs to be done and quick. I would hate to see the shuttle fleet mothballed immediately, but that might just be the best thing for space travel in general. This AFP story on Yahoo! News puts in to words a lot of thoughts I’ve been having about the shuttle program lately.
At this point in the game plan we’re going to be without our own means in to space between 2010 when the shuttle program finally expires and 2014, the earliest that I could imagine the CEV and cargo carriers might be ready. Here’s what NASA engineer Homer Hicham has to say:
“The space shuttle is … never going to be reliable no matter how much money, time and engineering careers your throw at it. Let’s put the shuttle on the shelf right away and give engineers the gift of designing new ships to carry humans into space,” he said
The current next-gen plan seems like a duct tape solution, but given the time and budget restraints I don’t see an alternative. All of this stuff is a total downer for a sci-fi geek like me, and I’m just hoping that China announces serious plans to put a man on Mars by 2020. Short of something like that I don’t see us taking space exploration very seriously at all.