The future of the NASA space program is more in question than ever as budget cuts stifled one project and a lack of fuel ended another after twelve years of service. James Cameron’s plan to film the Martian surface in 3D may no longer be feasible, but the loss of the Stardust comet chaser marks the end of a profoundly important era for the space program.
The next Mars Rover, Curiosity, was originally designed to carry onboard a 3D camera with two lenses working in conjunction to provide viewers on Earth with advanced photographs of the Martian surface and the ability to look in to what life on Mars might really look like. And yet as budget cuts continue to gut the space program, NASA has been forced to drop the latest aspiration for 3D images of mars from its program. Instead, NASA will be returning to Mars using only standard single frame photographs. And this may partially be due to Cameron’s reputation of going over-budget with his projects during a time when NASA is still scrambling for even basic support from the Government that once made it a symbol of western ingenuity and science.
But that’s not the only dream ending this week for NASA as the Stardust comet chasing probe was finally shut down after its fuel tanks ran dangerously near empty and it was forced to expel the rest of its fuel. When the fuel tank reaches empty, it will no longer be able to use its solar collectors to adjust it toward the sun. And when the Stardust’s batteries go dead, it will be gone for good. At least until space travel becomes commonplace and it can be intercepted by a space-faring human race that finally took that final push and reached for the stars. And from the looks of how things are on the ground, that dream too is farther away than ever.
Analysts have suggested ever since the beginning of the economic crisis that the future of NASA, while still possessing many of the same projects, may actually be a joint operation between several scientific organizations worldwide from several different nations. Whether this is how the space program of 2021 is something that will have to be seen.
Meanwhile, there is still hope for NASA’s current incarnation. After all, despite a lack of funding and having to cancel several of its more ambitious projects, the space program has made great strides in the past two years, first releasing information that the Moon possesses water in 2010 with the L-Cross and then doing the same for Mars shortly afterward. The space program that brought us the words “That’s one small step for a man” could still make one giant leap for mankind if public interest remains.