Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year Decade Resolutions and Predictions

It's the end of the year. 2009 marked the end of a decade, possibly an era. It was a year with the Augustine Report, a year with the first test of Ares, a part of the Constellation Program that may or may not take people to the moon or Mars (probably not), a year of several successful shuttle missions and maybe the most amazing discovery of finding water on the moon. Since space exploration progress is slow, and execution of decisions made today will take years if not decades, it is perhaps better to take the custom of New Year Resolutions and extend it to the next decade.

The decade ending tomorrow hasn't turned out exactly like the epic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey predicted - the Cold War is over but no one has reached Jupiter or gotten killed by artificial intelligence... There were a lot of successful missions in the shuttle program which started over 30 years ago. Seven astronauts lost their lives in the Columbia disaster that led to a set of inspections of the heat shield tiles of the shuttle before re-entry. There was a lot of international collaboration in launches and building the ISS, possibly the most encouraging space fact in terms of human progress. This past decade also introduced the Astronaut Code of Professional Responsibility after the Lisa Nowak affair.

We end this year and this decade with great uncertainty in terms of the future of space exploration, manned exploration in particular. At least according to current plans (until Obama changes that, apparently not this year), space programs I grew up with as a kid will come to an end this coming decade, most notably the International Space Station (2015) and the Space Shuttle Program (2010, only five more flights).

A lot of money, manpower and science is involved in space exploration. Thus, a lot of what is going to happen in 2010-2019 is already been worked on or planned. For example, China is planning to send astronauts to the moon in 2017. President Obama will also take his decision in regards to future space exploration and funding of NASA to Congress. We'll see the final five space shuttle missions in 2010, with a possible extension based on Obama's decisions. Also planned are more Soyuz Expeditions, as sending astronauts to the ISS becomes an almost exclusive Russian capability until a new NASA program or commercial flights become operational. The private sector will continue to grow with Virgin Galactic first space tourism flights around 2012 (though I couldn't find a date on their web site); maybe even a space hotel. Will the Buran get resurrected? Will the Russians send a spacecraft to Apophis? How about sending monkeys to Mars? Brian at Astronaut for Hire summarized these potential Russian projects.

Also new for the next decade - reality-nauts. For the first time ever, in 2010-2011 the world will watch the space-bound reality show Starwalker. The show will attempt to select and train astronauts with the ultimate goal of sending two of them to the ISS as contributing astronauts rather than space tourists.

Overall, there will be a lot of action in space over the next decade (just check out this Wikipedia page listing planned 2010 missions), but another giant leap for mankind? For that I think we'll have to wait at least until the next decade. One new-decade-resolution I hope we'll carry over from this decade is the continued international commitment and cooperation to collectively share, explore, achieve and advance humanity.

What are YOUR predictions for the next decade? Please comment!

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