At this point, the future of space exploration may lie more with private firms than with government-funded organizations like NASA, who have suffered from massive budget cuts over the past decade. Fortunately, at least two private firms have accepted the challenge and are getting involved with the International Space Station (ISS). Elon Musk’s SpaceX has already sent a spacecraft packed with supplies to the ISS, and now a second firm, Orbital Sciences, is doing the same.
Cygnus may not seem like a big deal since SpaceX is already in the game, but it’s important to have more than one private firm involved in the space race. A rival to SpaceX will help drive competition, eventually bringing more private companies into the business of space exploration. Also, having more than one company delivering goods to the space station benefits the astronauts. Not only does this guarantee that they have adequate supplies, but they can also receive rarer items from Earth, such as the guitar astronaut Chris Hadfield used in his video covering David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Obviously, something like that can help make sure that astronaut morale remains high.
There’s just one problem with these private firms’ involvement with the ISS: NASA’s mission for the station was originally set to end in 2016, although that was recently pushed back to 2020. At that point, it’s unlikely that the mission will continue, due to NASA budgetary constraints. Will companies like SpaceX and Orbital take on the cost of keeping the ISS in space? Or will they focus their interest elsewhere: perhaps the Moon, or even Mars? It's sad that something as wonderful as the ISS might actually have to go away, but if it does, let’s hope it’s for bigger and better things.
Via New Scientist