As NASA retires the three remaining space shuttles to museums, the space program is on halt as they will be working on sending astronauts beyond the bounds of Earth later this century.
The space shuttles have been in operation for 30 years, and a local museum director says it is time to trade them in for something new.
“The shuttles were quite old,” Armstrong Air and Space Museum Director Chris Burton said, “and there is not something to replace them yet.”
This means that the United States will not have means to go out on space explorations for several years.
“Politicians and scientists need to sort out where they want to go first,” Burton said. “There is no clear mission right now.”
Burton suggested possibly designing two different air crafts — one for shorter trips and one for longer trips.
The last shuttle went into orbit at the beginning of July and was scheduled to land back on Earth today on the 42nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon. But after 12 days in orbit, the flight is likely to be extended to a 13th day because of weather, according to The Associated Press.
Other than needing to retire this spacecraft, cost was another factor to end the space shuttle program.
“It is expensive, but in the grand scheme of the government, it’s not as costly as other things,” Burton said.
Burton said that space exploration should be a priority for the government to look at and continue.
During the space shuttle program, there have been two tragic accidents that have killed 14 astronauts and destroyed two shuttles, the Challenger in 1986 and the Columbia in 2003. NASA never managed more than nine flights a year, and the cost was approximately $1.45 billion a flight.
A year after the Columbia tragedy, President George W. Bush announced the retirement of the shuttle and put NASA on a course back to the moon. President Barack Obama canceled the moon project in favor of the trips to an asteroid and Mars.
NASA has yet to work out the details of how they plan to get there, and also they are not settled on a spacecraft design.
The lull that the end of the shuttle program will bring is unsettling to many space-watchers.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in an interview with CNN’s State of the Union Program that the U.S. will remain the world leader in space exploration, even after the shuttles stop flying.
“I would encourage the American public to listen to the president,” Bolden said in an AP story. “The president has set the goals, an asteroid in 2025, Mars in 2030. I can’t get any more definite than that.”
Until private companies get piloted spacecraft flying, which is an estimated three to 10 years out, NASA will have to stick with Russian Soyuz to get U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.
The big debate now is where should NASA aim next, and how is the best way to get there.