I have an opinion piece in the New York Post yesterday about the future of NASA. It's hard to imagine that while at this very moment we have astronauts working so hard to upgrade Hubble and doing such a fantastic job, NASA is itself somewhat rudderless.
Cassini still orbits Saturn, returning one stunning image after another. Rovers still traverse the Martian surface, years after their warranties have expired. The Swift satellite recently saw the most distant single object in the Universe, a titanic explosion an incredible 13.1 billion light years away. Despite these astonishing achievements, NASA is floundering. The Space Shuttle program is waning. When the current mission touches down, only eight more flights of the birds will remain, the last in 2010. The replacement program, called Constellation, won't launch until at least 2014, and more likely later. For at least four years, NASA won't be able to launch a human into space without help from Russia, Europe, or just possibly private industry.
I'm very concerned about the future of NASA and of space exploration itself, and I honestly don't know what needs to be done. I have some suggestions in that article, but they're my personal opinion. What do you think? Another opinion piece posted today is by astronaut Tom Jones and largely mirrors what I said. And there's a third OpEd on this topic up as well... by Buzz Aldrin! He talks about the ISS, which I did not, due to space limitation (in the article, not in space). Buzz makes some good points, though I wonder if we should focus more on the ISS or set our goals higher. It all depends on how willing we are to take the big steps.