Without the Space Shuttle, what would be next?
NASA’s Space Shuttle program was officially retired in 2011, after 135 flights and nearly four decades of use. NASA stays busy in other areas -- it's planning a mission to a moon of Jupiter in the next decade to search for alien life, and it's working on sending humans to Mars -- but the last flight of Atlantis was still an iconic bookend to years of scientific exploration and American-led development and innovation in the space industry, which brought the world everything from the Hubble telescope and the International Space Station to satellite TV and GPS. Without the shuttle, what would be next?
The end of the shuttle era created a lull, albeit short, in the American space industry that caused various elements – including supplying the International Space Station – to be outsourced to other countries. But at NASA's calling, American manufacturers have risen to the occasion; small, private space companies are helping to ensure the future of the U.S. space industry. Companies like SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Blue Origin have begun to thrive and blossom as the private space industry has matured.
Small, private space companies are helping to ensure the future of the U.S. space industry.
Today, these companies are commanding attention from governmental and private entities alike. While private industry has yet to take over manned missions to space for American astronauts, which currently rests in the hands of the Russian space program, companies like SpaceX supply missions to the International Space Station. And while manned missions to the station (and beyond) are on the horizon, this private industry boom has caused unexpected industries to emerge.
Virgin Galactic has launched the first-ever space tourism company in New Mexico, where it operates the first-ever commercial spaceport. SpaceX also provides a platform for other private companies and industries to get to space through the use of its Dragon Capsule. Planetary Resources, a company dedicated to prospecting and mining resources from asteroids, uses the SpaceX platform to get its equipment to space in an attempt to create an entirely new industry that some believe could be worth trillions of dollars.
The U.S. government, either through great vision or happy accident, jumpstarted the American space industry in a way no one could have imagined. By slowly deregulating space exploration and dismantling NASA programs, a multi-billion dollar space industry has emerged. And with the private space boom just beginning, American ingenuity has provided the launch pad for these companies to reach new heights.