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Houston, We Have A Problem …

(C’mon … you knew I had to use that one …)

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Greetings from Deep in the Heart of Texas – specifically, Webster, a little town alongside I-45 about halfway between Houston and Galveston. Webster is one of several towns that surround the region’s most famous resident, the Johnson Space Center – home of America’s manned space flight program.

These are dog days for the astronaut corps. The shuttle program has ended, and the remaining orbiters are being decommissioned as we speak in preparation for their new lives as museum pieces. The International Space Station still orbiting overhead, a huge and impressive piece of machinery that’s controlled from the Chris Kraft Mission Control Center over at JSC.

Unfortunately, it’s also a station that America currently has no way to visit or resupply. There are European and Russian and Japanese cargo ships, but none from the US (although the good folks at SpaceX are hoping to change that soon). And of course, the Russians are more than happy to sell our crewmembers a seat on one of their Soyuz workhorses – a set that doubled in price the moment the wheels stopped on the last shuttle mission.

Barring some unforeseen challenge from the stars (cue Bruce Willis’ asteroid here), we may have seen the end of America’s dominance in space. Born out of the chill of the Cold War and fueled by a desire to fulfill the dream of a dead president, NASA saw a similar doldrums in the mid-70s after budget concerns and dwindling interest led to cancellation of the last Apollo missions. Skylab and the Apollo Soyuz Test Program were done on the cheap by using excess moon flight hardware, but we didn’t really move forward again until the shuttle arrived.

While the results were spectscular, and we couldn’t have assembled the ISS without it, the cost of the shuttle in blood and treasure ultimately proved its downfall. Now we find ourselves once again becalmed, adrift in space awaiting the return of solar winds and political will. It’s a sad state for the proud men and women of NASA, but sitting as I am only a few blocks from the entrance of JSC, I can tell you this – I’m proud just to breath the same air they do.

Onward and upward …

Via iPad …

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