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America stands at a significant point in space exploration history with the landing of the nation’s last space shuttle last week. For some observers, the final flight of Atlantis, a mission with the official designation of STS-135, was “bittersweet,” as one writer called it.
Atlantis’ landing may signify a complicated era in the “Space Age,” or it may usher the start of the end of a virtual monopoly by the government of mankind’s exploration of space. As previously reported, Charles Bolden, the NASA Administrator, has been targeted by controversy regarding his agency’s future and the future of manned space flight.
George Bush’s “Constellation” program was immediately killed by the Obama administration. Two of the program’s objectives include a return to the moon and ultimately, a mission to Mars. However, the Obama-era goals of NASA swiftly placed the Moon and Mars on the timetable again but this time, pushed them a bit farther away.
Meantime, the budget of NASA stayed essentially stable, despite the conclusion of a shuttle program that had in the past consumed a significant portion of the budget.
Today, the post-shuttle era commences, and private industry is showing an eagerness to broaden its role on this new frontier. As Kenneth Chang, a writer in a news daily, observed, “Now that the last space shuttle has landed back on Earth, a new generation of space entrepreneurs would like to whip up excitement about the prospect of returning to the moon.”