Back in the 60′s, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions were exciting and we all watched Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley report all the details from launch to splash down. Beginning with Alan Shepard’s 15 minute sub-orbital flight in 1961 and culminating with the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, the space program was fascinating.

The public thrill did not last long, and except for crises, disasters and firsts (ride, Sally Ride), we stopped paying too much attention. Launches rated little more than a few seconds on the evening news. However, so much science was going on! Besides the high profile space shuttle and space station programs, NASA has conducted hundreds of manned and unmanned missions and has many more proposed. I was astonished by the number and descriptions of each program and you can link to each one at http://www.nasa.gov/.

President Kennedy inaugurated the US space program with landing men on the moon as its goal. For over 40 years since that accomplishment, humans have been confined to earth orbit. In 2004, President George W. Bush announced a plan to return Americans to the moon by 2020 and ultimately, to reach Mars. He stated, “the desire to explore and understand is part of our character“. Two robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, successfully landed on Mars in 2004. Spirit stopped communicating last year and Opportunity continues to function beyond all expectations. President Obama reiterated the commitment to Mars but pushed the target date back to 2030, and robotic rover Curiosity was launched on November 26 on its 8 month journey to explore the planet.

According to NASA, this is the beginning of a new era in space exploration where the International Space Station will be used as a stepping stone. In addition, NASA plans to foster a commercial industry for projects within Earth’s orbit so energy and resources can be focused on sending astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. I hope they have read Packing for Mars by Mary Roach and can figure out all the complications by 2030. “The road ahead is challenging but this approach and space exploration architecture puts us in a position to go where no human has gone before.

Space exploration has provided countless benefits and NASA’s website has a list at http://techtran.msfc.nasa.gov/at_home.html. Of course, the benefits come with a high costs  and it is prudent to ask if the benefits are worth the expense, especially in these difficult economic times. Does the quest for knowledge and need to explore have a price tag?

Mary Casey is a student in the MS in Business Leadership and Management program at CUNY School of Professional Studies and is an alumna of Lehman College. She is an administrator for a university in NYC. She loves to travel and wants to see as much of the world as possible. Mary has more comments on the SPS blog than she received on the community/political blog that she created and maintained from 2002 to 2004.

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