You've probably heard that NASA is moving on from the Shuttle program. You may have also heard that they've spent most of 2009 coming to the realization that the plans to follow up the program with a system capable of getting us to the moon and beyond is not going well. We're on track to cancel the Space Shuttle in 2010. Layoffs are already happening, and it's really too late to stop it.
The new space systems don't look like they'll be ready until 2016 at the earliest. This leaves the United States without a way to get people into space. We'll have to rely on Russian Spacecraft to get to the International Space Station. This is probably okay. We're using those spacecraft right now to get people up there, and barring a complete political meltdown between the US and Russia, this will be a fine solution until we can build a replacement.
If there is a MAJOR political breakdown, it's an International project, and sharing the space station in a climate so poor is probably not going to be very high on the priority list.
I've heard rumors that Russia will start raising the price of the launches because they can. Well, they can, and if they do, let's use it as motivation to put the pedal to the metal on the replacements. Or maybe we could just give SpaceX the money instead.
Believe it or not, this is a MINOR issue and is clouding our judgment.
This time between the Shuttle being retired and the next generation of spacecraft being ready is being referred to as "The Gap".
"The Gap" is only a small part of a much bigger problem and focusing only on that one aspect ignores the importance of setting this faltering Government organization back on track. If we can't get the plan right this time, the American people will not give it another chance to do so.
The American citizen's problem with human spaceflight is faith. They don't believe we can do it. The last time a major change was imagined we were pitched a space shuttle with ideas like hundreds of flights a year and scifi had us in space stations by 2001.
What we've got today is infighting, delays and shattered dreams. The details are the details, it's the big picture that matters. The dreams of our future imagined are nothing like our current reality.
A very difficult problem indeed.