Editorial License: Postcards From The Moon - by Ernest Lilley - Editor/SFRevu
When I was a child, I promised my grandmother I'd send her a postcard from the moon. She's gone now, and I'll probably never send back vacation pictures from the sunny seashore of Tranquility myself, but I'd be happy if I thought a child alive today could make that promise and keep it because of what we do next.
The loss of Columbia and her crew point up what we've always known, that the current shuttle design was only one small step toward real space access, and never meant to fly forever, or to 2012 and beyond as is now planned. I'm not saying the shuttle is old, but contractors actually buy up old computer equipment to harvest chips they can use in shuttle systems. Chips home computers haven't used in a decade or more.
I think we need a new space initiative, but not one about going to Mars, or planting a colony on the moon. I think we need to develop cheap, reliable Low Earth Orbit access, not run by a government agency, and let the chips fall.
If you know me very well, you probably know I'm a big booster of a program known as the Delta-X, which consisted of an honest-to-Heinlein take off and land on a pillar of fire spaceship. An impressive demonstrator was built by McDonnell Douglas, flown a number of times until it was turned over to NASA, where they tested it until it broke. That's not really a slam on NASA...testing is supposed to break things, but unfortunately all the money for LOE access development was being put out into an unlikely concept called the Venture Star, which has since succumbed to the costliness of its approach.
I asked a handful of writers, engineers and scientists to comment on The Way Ahead, and they are in general agreement -the shuttle ain't broke, most likely, but neither is it the way of the future.
I'd like to leave a legacy for the next generations, and not one of having planted flags around the solar system and coming home to brag about it. I'd like to be part of the generation that opened the door to space, and held it open for those to come. In those terms the cost in lives may seem no less dear, but it is a cost that adds value to what they have bought.