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Will the U.S. rejoin the Space Race?


The recent political turmoil in the former Soviet republic called the Ukraine has been much in the news lately. Currently, it seems to be on the cusp of a civil war between those who want it to remain a separate independent country and those who want it to rejoin what used to be the Soviet Union. While this has resulted in violence, and poses the possibility of a wider military conflict that could involve Russia itself, it may have a side-benefit of reviving the U.S. space program, which has been moribund ever since the end of the Space Shuttle program and some would say long before that.

Since the last shuttle flew, the United States, the leader for so long in technology and the first (and only country), to have landed human beings on the moon and returned them to earth has been reduced to hitching rides on Soviet Soyuz boosters if it wanted to send astronauts into space. When President Kennedy posed the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth, he said that 'Space is the new ocean and I believe the United States must sail on it'. He knew that such a goal, while important in itself, was even more important in showing that this country was still in the forefront of the outer countries in the world, not only in technology but in other ways as well. Today, we seem to have given up on this dream. Even the modest Constellation program, which was supposed to return men to the moon and possibly establish a permanent base for further exploration of the solar system, was canceled by the Obama Administration three years ago. The reason? It was 'too expensive'.

However, this could soon be ended. The political friction between the United States and Russia over the events in the Ukraine has led to threats by the Russian space authorities to cut off American access to space. This would force us to ramp up our own space program. Right now we are developing the SLS booster, which is bigger than the Saturn V that launched men to the moon. If we can no longer 'bum' a ride from Russia, this might force us to actually find something meaningful to do with it, like returning to the moon or even going to Mars. Elon Musk, the developer of the Tesla electric car, has already developed the unmanned SpaceX capsule that has been used to successfully resupply the International Space Station. He has proposed developing a manned version that could be used to send human beings into space, and I believe we should take him up on it. The alternative is to remain permanently on the shore while ships of other nations sail out to explore the ocean of space.