I frequently get asked what I think about the direction NASA is taking. I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but didn’t post it at the time. I’m not really sure why. This post does not outline my personal take on what we should be doing with our space program; it just provides a little bit of perspective on things from where I sit. 

Written on April 20th: 

After the president’s visit to Kennedy Space Center last week where he laid out the emerging plan for NASA to go forward, I’ve noticed a fair amount of negativity in the space community. Personally, I have high hopes for our nation’s future in space. It isn’t because anything particularly revolutionary was disclosed at Obama’s Space Summit. My perspective has just changed gradually over the past year or so, and a lot of that I owe to my interactions on Twitter. I used to look at space exploration very narrowly. Like this is the way we go to space, and this is the right way and the only way. And this is how it has to be (I’m exaggerating, but just go with it). I looked at the changes to the program more in terms of how they affected me and my community.

Now, after quite some time on Twitter, I have much greater knowledge of commercial space operations, robotic missions, and international perspectives. Because of this I am able to take myself out of the equation and look at the plan more optimistically. It has made me start to challenge the traditional thinking that is ingrained in us about NASA’s role and see more of a big picture view. 

Seeing Discovery land today reminded me how impressive the shuttle is as a launch vehicle, and how sad I’ll be to see the program end. That being said, if we waited another five years, ten years, or even more to retire it, would it be any easier? For me, the answer is no. The shuttle is an icon, a symbol of pride, and a treasure. It is going to be hard to see it go no matter when it happens. And there is no denying that as time goes on it would become more difficult to maintain due to issues like aging hardware and availability of spares. So, while I might not be ready for shuttle to end, I probably won’t ever be, in the same way I would never be ready for a loved one to die. It will be a time to grieve and then move on. 

I have heard the argument that it would be easier to lay shuttle to rest if we had something better coming along. Ares-1 might have filled that role, but there were funding issues. So now we’re trying something different, with a greater emphasis on commercial spaceflight roles. Our destinations are different, and we aren’t quite sure what kind of vehicle we will be using to get to them. But we’re going SOMEWHERE. We have a commitment to develop a heavy-lift vehicle. These are steps in the right direction, yet they don’t seem to have been met with much optimism. Of course, people have every right to feel the way they do and to question the decisions. Personally, I’m choosing not to. I just don’t see the point. 

Regardless of what I think is the the right path to take, I’m not the one who gets to make that decision. Rather than expend energy fighting it or fretting over it, I’m going to accept the new plan for what it is and be hopeful. I’m going to look around for new opportunities arising from it where I can make a difference and seize them, or create my own. I’m going to savor everything about the last few shuttle missions, and remember the program fondly. 

Overall I see that there is potentially a bright future out there for NASA and space exploration, it just looks different than what most of us expected. A lot different. If we can approach the new plan with open minds, accept that there are other valid ways of doing things and embrace them, we can make the most of the situation. If, instead, we consider it a tremendous loss and spend our time wallowing in it, then it will most likely manifest as one. For me, it was a simple choice.