12 May 2014

Hard Choices for Manned Spaceflight

America as Icarus 

MAY 8, 2014 

There are two possibilities for America’s defunct manned space program. One is that this is a temporary hiatus and America will soon be able to again do what it could do in the 1970s and put small capsules in low earth orbit. The other possibility is that a combination of political indifference and a decline in the government’s ability to manage large, complex projects means that the age of manned space exploration by America is over.

The rhetoric of space reflects the politics of an earlier era, when space was a new, strategically important technology and manned spaceflight had immense symbolic value. But policy is best measured by outcomes, not speeches, and the decision to let manned spaceflight stagnate says much about how America thinks about space. America’s political leaders may be right to be indifferent to space. Or they could be making a strategic miscalculation in ceding leadership to China, assuming they are the tortoise and we are the hare whose speed remains unsurpassed. 

Publisher CSIS 

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