The recent New York fly over of the Space Shuttle Enterprise reminds me of the test flights conducted back in the late 70′s. I remember some newscaster predicting that if you were under the age of 30, there was a good chance you would be able to experience space travel in your life time, I was perhaps 14 at the time. Today of course, at the age of 48, ever seeing space is a ridiculous notion.
Now that funding for whatever will replace the Shuttle program has shifted primarily to private sector development, we can expect a very slow slog towards probably nothing. Several private companies will vacuum up billions of federal dollars and produce nothing over the next decade. Look at Mojave Aerospace Ventures, they have only managed put a man in low earth orbit, something that was a serious trick in 1964 but not so much in 2004. I suspect Ethiopia could successfully put a man in low earth orbit with a balloon and a lawn chair if they wanted to.
The problem of course is as a country, we simply do not have the will for space exploration and I do not see this changing anytime soon. Our government is moor bound by conservative partisanship and the need to cut spending on everything except the CIA and the Defense Department. The private sector has no interest in space because there is no profit to be made yet. Yeah, yeah, mining asteroids blah blah. Not going to happen in my lifetime. Before we can effectively mine asteroids one of two things must happen, either the minerals we will mine will become so expensive the cost of getting it will be profitable or space flight will have to be so inexpensive that the cost of getting the minerals will be profitable. I see neither of these things happening in my life time. Of course if we had discovered hydrocarbons on the moon, we would have had a base there in 1975, and you’d better bloody fucking believe it would be American territory. But the fact is, the closest deposits of hydrocarbons we are aware of are on Saturn’s moon Titan, and since the shortest possible trip there would be 2 plus years, good luck with that.