With the advent of unraveling Mars’ secrets by the drills, shovels, spectrometers, and cameras aboard a rover called Curiosity, supporters of the NASA program are left to wonder what possibilities lie ahead for the next big leap into space. Privately-funded space exploration companies such as SpaceX have forced discussions concerning the financial stability of a government-backed space program. In a privately-funded model of a space program, we can expect a great amount of competition, given that the fledgling companies have something to prove to space exploration enthusiasts and experts alike. The result would be a rise in production of new equipment, technologies, and interest among those wealthy enough to buy their way to space. What the private funding model lacks is the American spirit that is vital to the appreciation of awaited discoveries.
Similarly, the lack of American spirit is the pitfall of NASA. Support for NASA and its missions rests solely on the government’s ability to convince Americans that space exploration is vital to daily living and to future generations. In order to do this, they must avoid fear tactics, but also play to the necessity of expanding our scientific research beyond Earth.
Companies like SpaceX and Excalibur Almaz should not be considered threats to NASA, at least not yet. NASA still retains vast resources, networks, and the experience required to launch a variety of spacecraft. Success for privately funded space exploration will only happen if they both send the necessary crew into orbit, but also exploratory spacecraft to contend with NASA’s track record. Rapid production could also aid their cause, as impatience and forgetfulness plague NASA projects. This most recent Mars rover mission was in development for eight years before landing this past Monday. Two other rovers, Spirit and Opportunity landed on January 4and 24of 2004, respectively.
While we should not be bombarded with information regarding the flight trajectory or implications surrounding the launch and landing of spacecraft, it would be a welcome reminder knowing there’s an amazing and expensive piece of machinery on a planet millions of miles away from us thriving in terrifying conditions. It is important for the supporters of the space program to have readily accessible and meaningful results when these programs are undertaken. Without this, the future of NASA will be bleak with large companies buying their way into the media spotlight, a place NASA should be.