The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is synonymous with space exploration. Since the obsolete Russian Mir space station was deliberatley destroyed by the Russians in 2001, NASA now enjoys a monopoly in space exploration, right?
If the answer is in the affirmative then we can only look to NASA for the future of humankind in space. What bold new programs are in NASA's future? Will they boldly go where no man has gone before? Not exactly.
"On January 14, 2004, ten days after the landing of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, President George W. Bush announced a new plan for NASA's future, dubbed the Vision for Space Exploration.
According to this plan, mankind will return to the Moon by 2018, and set up outposts as a test bed and potential resource for future missions." [Quotation from Wikipedia]
NASA's bold new mission is to return to the moon; haven't we already "been there, done that"? NASA's shuttle program is almost as obsolete as the MIR space station; it's based on 1970's technology. Fortunately, contrary to common belief, NASA is not the only organization, nor the only country seeking to explore the cosmos.
The Chinese also have a space program, they plan to land a space probe on the moon by 2020. Sigh, the moon again, but don't despair there are other organizations with deeper vision.
I believe that the future of space exploration involves cooperation between NASA and the space programs of other nations. One example of such a project is the Cassini-Huygens mission-- a cooperative effort of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
"Cassini-Huygens is a joint NASA/ESA/ASI robotic spacecraft mission currently studying the planet Saturn and its moons. The spacecraft consists of two main elements: the NASA Cassini orbiter, named after the Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and the ESA Huygens probe, named after the Dutch astronomer, mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens." [Quotation from Wikipedia]
The Cassini mission has recently been in the news; the Cassini spacecraft has discovered that there may be a hidden ocean underneath Titan, one of Saturn's moons. This is an incredible discovery because where there is water, there may very well be life. I don't think we will discover a subterranean race of intelligent creatures, but we could discover microscopic life.
I have great respect for the shuttle astronauts, it takes great courage to travel in space on an almost obsolete spacecraft controlled by computers that are less powerful than the one owned by the typical computer nerd. (Slight exaggeration.)
That's why I'm delighted that I can also follow the space exploits of the Cassini mission. The success of Cassini is a testament to the great things we can accomplish when we work in concert with our international partners.