Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Monday, July 25, 2011

Space shuttle: The darker view of the end of an era

As space shuttle Atlantis's wheels touched down in Florida on Thursday, the shuttles' epoch of defining manned spaceflight came to a close. What comes next for the US space agency is a new way of running things - but not everyone is happy about it.

For now, American astronauts and their long-time partners in Canada, Europe and Japan will depend on Russian Soyuz vehicles to get to orbit and the job of developing the shuttles' successors will be carried out in the private sector.

Much of the news coverage of the end of this era has looked wistfully back on the shuttles' accomplishments, principal among them the development of the International Space Station.

As for what's next, Nasa administrator Charles Bolden is just one of many at the agency insisting that the "future of human spaceflight is bright".

However, those rosy views of both past and future are not shared by everyone.

One concern is the sweeping job cuts at the agency. But former Nasa administrator Mike Griffin and space policy expert John Logsdon say that Nasa's grip on leadership in space has this week been lost - possibly forever.

"When you push aside all the puffery and high-flying political announcements, with the landing of Atlantis, the human spaceflight programme of the US will come to an end for the indefinite future," Professor Griffin told BBC News. (more)