From the first unmanned capsules to the fantastic array of satellites and telescopes that are launched every year, there have been stunning stories of the moments that will capture the human mind forever. Yet from the perspective of those living during the height of the space race, it would be surprising to see that humans have not been to the Moon since 1972 or even made concentrated efforts to go anywhere beyond our pale blue dot.
From a brief glance at modern society, very few understand the practical benefits that space sciences can have on the world. While space travel is enormously expensive and requires technological advances that toe the line between reality and science-fiction, it has uses that justify its sacrifices. It may be difficult to look at the Saturn V launches that cost a total of a few billion dollars and immediately see where the investment has been returned, but a closer look reveals more. The technology behind our modern society and its incredible scientific advancements have been made possible by the successes of those missions. And without the currently-doomed shuttle program, the International Space Station could not have easily been assembled. Although the launching costs are high, it is important to remember that it is not just a hangout for astronauts, but a laboratory where scientific breakthroughs are being discovered on a regular basis.
As for recent cutbacks, it is unfortunate that the shuttle program did not live up to its original specifications. But those were cutting edge missions to places nearly beyond imagination, at the time, and now the main question is what space travel can provide today. But whatever the future holds, we should never find ourselves without a fleet of human launch vehicles, whether they be reusable or conventional rockets.
Maybe it is not quite time to return to the Moon, land on asteroids, or establish bases on Mars, but these goals should at least be on the drawing board. While not everybody endorses the high budget that is required or even understands the practical scientific knowledge that would return from such missions, it would be difficult to find someone who truly does not wish to see humans land on the red planet within their lifetime. Maybe it is time to start looking back up and pointing where we want to go in the vast cosmos above. We know our own system well through our army of probes and satellites, maybe it is time to see it for ourselves.
May the stars shine brightly in your skies.