I have resolutely stayed out of the vigorous debate on the future of the American manned space program, for a number of reasons: It’s a political problem that will be resolved (but probably not solved) by political methods – lobbying, petitions, ignoring voters, etc – and not by my humble opinion. I am not a US citizen, so I don’t see why I should care if the US “Loses it’s dominance of space”. I am just a humble amateur astronomer, and I don’t even have an opinion as to which direction manned space exploration should go. Private? Government? Moon, Mars, Asteroids? The best I could do is what every other loud mouth on the internet has been doing: Regurgitate somebody else’s argument.
Besides which, as far as I can tell, NASA continues to do loads of very valuable and successful work. Scarcely a day goes by without some new breathtaking images of Saturn and it’s system of moons and rings coming from Cassini, the Mars Rovers continue plodding along years and years beyond their planned lifespans, even the venerable Voyager probes are still out there, travelling further and further into space and reliably returning data on the conditions they find. NASA may have an uncertain future where manned space travel is concerned, but that’s only one part of their mission. Phil Plait argues in the 30th anniversary edition of Discover magazine that the current unmanned program has completely revolutionised our view of the Solar System, revealing landslides on Mars, fresh craters on the Moon, the still-continuing bombardment of Jupiter by comets and asteroids, the dynamic nature of Saturns rings, geysers, volcanoes, the ingredients of life.
The Apollo program was an astonishing achievement, but it pales into insignificance when compared to what NASA has given us over the last decade.