So, what does this represent? Well for one, the ISS is finally going to have the ability to be near full power. Discovery carries with it the final solar arrays for the ISS. One might think I should say full power, but that’s not possible right now. Don’t forget, the Starboard (right) SARJ, Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, is still messed up on the ISS and won’t allow the solar array assembly on that side fully rotate properly. Therefore, it’s doesn’t really achieve max potential. Discovery is also serving as a taxi and resupply vehicle, providing a crew swap opportunity and giving the ISS some much needed supplies.
This is all the stuff you can read anywhere. Here’s what really matters: there are only 5 official missions now left on the books, provided nothing changes as of today. The shuttle program is winding down, making those in Florida nervous, and others involved with the program wondering if Ares and Project Constellation will actually provide the salvation they require.
The political environment is sketchy right now and Obama has yet to even name the next NASA Administrator. The more this delay occurs, the more you have to wonder if he takes space seriously or not. Space could be the answer to our economic woes, if treated properly.
Discovery’s current mission reminds me of several things:
1. The ISS is near completion and our obligation to be the world’s ferry boat for this monster is almost over. As you may guess, I’m not much of an ISS guy. It should have been completed long ago, using other heavy lift systems developed by other nations, but those nations decided not to lift a finger to develop their own shuttle system to help in the effort, leaving the United States to carry the burden of being the only option for ISS construction.
2. The shuttle program is coming to an end, and as of right now, there isn’t much of a light at the end of the tunnel for a new and improved program. Ares is still in testing, there are flaws with the vibrations they had to compensate for causing delays and cost overruns, and I personally am not fond of going backwards to a capsule on a firecracker system.
3. The Federal government isn’t exactly stepping up to the plate with regards to space, especially when they could easily use the space program (public and private) as a way to invigorate the economy, advance education, enhance international relations, and more.
Still, with what may seem to be overflowing pessimism from me on this subject, I am always proud and amazed by what the shuttles do. I watch every launch, either live when I lived in Orlando, or on TV now that I’m in Houston. It is an amazing thing that we do for the advancement of technology, knowledge, and humanity, and we must continue to advance the cause of human space exploration and development for future generations. Tonight the ISS and shuttle will fly over my house...and I will be watching.