NSS Commends the Dedicated Efforts of those that made the Space Shuttle Program possible
(Washington, DC -- July 21, 2011)
The National Space Society commends the dedicated efforts of those that made the Space Shuttle Program possible. Their painstaking work over the last three decades has brought humanity options on a future that we know in large measure through their efforts, we can make real. The Space Shuttle Program is a testament to the highest and best we as a species are capable of. From the fractured dreams of a tomorrow that neither the politicians of the day or the people that marveled at the technological hubris of the space age could be moved to support, the most complicated machine we as a species had ever dared to conceive of was actually built. It did not fly as soon, as often, as much, as safely, or nearly as cheaply as envisioned. But it still did fly. Everything involving human spaceflight before it was ever so tenuous; everything that follows will be measured by it. Its real mission was spelled out in no uncertain terms, the mission of "Going to Work in Space".
Virtually every aspect of the Space Shuttle Program -- from every part of the vehicle, to what it took to support the missions that it was assigned -- pressed the limits of what was known to be possible. Indeed, a very real part of each Space Shuttle mission was expanding the envelope of the possible. With the Space Shuttle we have gone to work in space, we have built the first permanent human presence in space, the International Space Station, and we have forged new options to go forward with expanding our civilization into the solar system and fathomed the reasons to do so. We are on our way to achieving our vision: People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity
Much ado has been made of late about the difference between government rockets and commercial rockets. Given that neither really have existed nor likely will exist for some time to come makes the impassioned oratories seem all the more strange. Virtually all the rockets built in the United States have come from a partnership between government and commercial concerns, and either directly or indirectly such relationships will continue for the foreseeable future. Indeed, as time goes on all of our endeavors in space will have some mix of government, commercial, and non-governmental organizations involved. For endeavors that require technology development and/or the satisfaction of requirements independent of the degree of difficulty, the government will likely play a pivotal role by the judicious apportionment of risk. That said, there are other ways of doing business. Once the requirements are well understood and the goods/services to be delivered in quantity are of a fixed design or a bounded derivative, risk and reward can and should be apportioned differently. Accordingly, we must get past arguing over false dichotomies and address the real decisions of the moment. The make-or-buy decisions before us are not rudderless vacillations; they are fundamental choices that often spell the success or failure of an enterprise. Failure to choose begets paralysis in an organization. Making the wrong choice yields a path fraught with risks — be they cost, schedule, or technical — that often prove intractable. In this case, we must embrace as driving requirements that the next generation of flight systems must be mission-enabling, sustainable, and affordable to use. All other requirements should be derived based on the need to manage cost, schedule, and technical risk. Once we understand the requirements, we can fathom the make-or-buy decisions as the systems engineering problems that they are (and should be). Opening the frontier of space for our civilization is the real overarching choice before us. There is no greater enterprise. It is the ultimate game changer. It is the difference between life as we know it rising to the challenges the universe puts before us, or abject resignation as a species to being an inconsequential aberration whose time will soon pass. Let us find a way past the hyperbole and get on with building the interplanetary railroad to the stars. The legacy that the Space Shuttle Program leaves us with is the understanding that it is up to us to not wait for the future, but to make it!
Gary Barnhard, Executive Director, National Space Society.