Through the 1970's and Eighties as we rested on our laurels content in the amazing science of the Space Shuttle, the cooperation of MIR, and later the ISS our technological base that was responsible for creating the Saturn V rocket, and all the components for landing on the moon, was withering. In hindsight, like a patient concerned with one aspect of health we focused on other bogeymen while our sheer dominating industrial and engineering base slowly atrophied. NASA, trying to continue on a path of exploration on limited budgets beset by ever changing Congressional and Presidential directives was perhaps like a bobbing capsule that had traveled great distances and achieved amazing results yet was adrift in the ocean with no clear view or steerage from a rescue ship. While the years mounted NASA continued to create amazing vessels of discovery, but focused on the mandate at hand the technological base that enabled us to do the greatest thing, was withering. Don't despair. NASA, despite budget cuts, and the continued machinations of Capital Hill is on the verge of a very real renaissance. Although our technological capability has shifted this has been a banner year for Human-Crewed-Spaceflight. Here is the rundown of some amazing things that promise to not only put us back in deeper space, but also put us on the Moon again, and later, Mars.
- NASA successfully conducted an amazing summer of testing of the J-2X engine at Stennis. They ran several tests well over 2000 seconds of the powerful Apollo Era engine, including throttling up and down.
- The Apollo Era Mobile Launcher Platform is being upgraded to handle bigger loads
- Some very interesting developments in the area of just how we might use cutting edge technology by using contour crafting for the building of a Lunar base from regolith. NASA is already testing this method, and it would save a tremendous amount on building a Moon base.
- A great deal of current focus is using 3D printing and assembly robots to build components in space and on the moon, instead of having to launch them assembled. They are already testing components on a Lunar Rover that is in the slideshow. Amazing.
There are so many more examples of progress of late, but since 'space' is limited here, perhaps the comments will list more emerging technologies, and hardware developments. It may be easy to believe that a return to the Moon in the near future or ever to Mars in our lifetimes is out of the question. But judging from all the examples of a clear across the board increase in R&D and components that are already being tested we might have a little room to be confident, Phil Plait recently opined that we were in another space race except now we are competing against an emerging China. While this may be true, our greatest enemy has always been ourselves lacking the foresight to continue on a path that is difficult and not politically expedient. A little competition is always good, and perhaps now we've gained enough wisdom to not be the hare in the race that gets winded and loses interest. Time will tell, but NASA seems to be poised to pull it all together again. Perhaps that is the greatest miracle of all.