With the final mission having been completed this week, Americans are now reflecting on the 30-year history of the space shuttle era and the future of space exploration.
The consensus seems to indicate there is still a space race between U.S. and Russia, despite cooperation between the two countries. The U.S. will use Russian Soyuz spacecrafts to send NASA's astronauts into space for the foreseeable future. Americans will pay $60 million to Russia for each trip an American takes on the Soyuz.
This has many Americans, like Texas Governor and possible Presidential candidate, Rick Perry up in arms.
Forty-two years ago yesterday, America captured the world's imagination by putting a man on the moon, highlighting an era of excellence in space exploration. Unfortunately, with the final landing of the Shuttle Atlantis and no indication of plans for future missions, this administration has set a significantly different milestone by shutting down our nation's legacy of leadership in human spaceflight and exploration, leaving American astronauts with no alternative but to hitchhike into space, Perry said in a statement referring to the Russians.
Perry is not alone in his desire to see Americans lead the space race and not rely on Russia. In a recent poll from CNN, 64 percent of respondents said it was important for the U.S. to be ahead of Russia in the space race.
The Russian themselves have added a little salt to the wounds of Americans. According to AFP, Russian space agency Roskosmos said in a statement, From today, the era of the Soyuz has started in manned space flight, the era of reliability.
The burden of future American made and created space exploration may fall on the private sector. NASA recently awarded contracts to companies like Lockheed Martin to built new age spacecrafts. Other companies like Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and The Boeing Company were awarded NASA contracts as well.
With NASA's support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk said recently.
SpaceX is working on a spacecraft it has called the Dragon. The company says it can carry seven astronauts at a time to the space station at a cost of $20 million a seat. Spacex's Falcon 9 became the first non Shuttle rocket to be man-rated for space exploration in 2010.
Other companies are similarly looking at private space exploration. Space Adventures President Tom Shelley said the company has already sent seven private citizens into space on eight missions and it has plans for much more.
We were the first company to arrange for a private citizen to fly into space when we sent Dennis Tito up into space in 2001, Shelley said. We were the start of the private space industry and I think over the next few years you'll see space travel dominated by private companies sending more and more people into space.
Currently, Space Adventures actually hitches a ride with the Russian Soyuz spacecrafts as well. However, Shelley said the company is working with Boeing to sell seats on its upcoming spacecraft.
There hasn't been a real space race since the end of the Soviet Union. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the space race was very real and a part of the East vs. West mentality in the country. When former President John F. Kennedy said in the early 1960s that the U.S. would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, his words were aimed at the Russians.
In fact, when the CNN poll was conducted in 1961, 51 percent of respondents said space leadership as very important. This time around, it was only 38 percent.
Today, Russia is not the only competition the U.S. faces in the space race. The Chinese government has also made numerous investments into space exploration. The country has moved slowly but has a set plan. The country has plans to send man to a moon by the 2020s.
Follow Gabriel Perna on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna