The plan was that of the Soviet Union in 1965. In 1968, the space program was given its first American partner. It was an American company called Northrop Grumman . Northrop is well-sourced company and has a real history of space achievement. In its 20th year of service, it was the first Boeing 707-200 to fly from the West Coast to the east coast (from Los Angeles to Detroit, no less), flew the last passenger 747 in its last 747 cargo flight from San Francisco to Cairo, and, according to the aerospace site Popular Culture, designed and flew the space shuttle that orbited America for three years. But the company’s main contribution to the space program has been in building and testing the Saturn V rocket. As the Apollo program was being killed by the Soviet Union, Northrop went on to make a name for itself in the U.S. in the 1980s working with NASA to create the Commercial Crew initiative for NASA to design, fly and test commercially-built spacecraft. The Cassini-Huygens mission, which has been the first in a series of spacecraft to venture beyond Saturn’s orbit, is an example of what a major corporation can do. I had an opportunity to sit down with Northrop CEO, Frank Bajakian recently. The subject of the interview was the company’s work on the mission. I asked him why he believes a Saturn V will still be useful after the space shuttle is retired. His response was short and straightforward: a Saturn V was designed to get astronauts past the speed of sound and to send them to Mars by the 2040s. It will also be important to test the technology needed for human exploration of Mars. The spacecraft that Northrop has designed are large, expensive, and don’t work very well on a journey to Mars under the most harsh conditions, because they have to withstand heat, radiation, wind, and even low pressures of up to 60 atmospheres. But, Bajakian said, as he views development of these future spacecraft, he is convinced that the Saturn V will remain indispensable. He told me that while the shuttle has been the focus of American space exploration throughout the last 35 years with the Russians having a secondary role, all nations in the space program must consider that the future of space exploration will be largely a U.S. effort. “If you want to go as light as possible and deploy as fast and as inexpensively as possible,” Bajakian said, “then you have to put all you have to you in a mission to Mars, and you have to invest the time and resources into that mission.” Now, it’s true that the Soviets never really said they would take as long as the shuttle to Mars, they said they would start a program. But the idea that it will be in the future and that it will be a long time before humans go to Mars sounds to me like an incredibly optimistic scenario. In reality, the last two decades of American spaceflight have not turned out to be so peaceful as one would think, or so peaceful as anyone would, because Russia has become an aggressive, ruthless, and threatening actor whenever it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. This comes out clearly in the recent controversy surrounding Russia’s supposed support for the Assad government in Syria. When we hear about the “allies” in the government who are supporting the regime, we forget about how much Russia has invaded and occupied the country of Iraq, how much it has attacked Ukraine, and how much money it has spent on weapons, especially in Syria. But, in all the discussion about Russia’s support for Assad, there is the implication that this is something that all other nations should have taken into consideration. Of course, we can’t do anything about Russia’s actions in Syria, but by ignoring the problem, our focus must remain on the need to do everything possible to build a relationship based on economic cooperation and mutual respect during the next stage of space exploration. The goal, according to Bajakian, will be “that people learn how to get along in a world that’s getting more hostile.” To continue our space efforts, more people need to know about space. To make this happen, more space-related organizations need to engage more people across the country. I recently visited a convention of the American Public Policy Association, which has a member organization focused on space issues, and I met with one of the organization’s members for about 8 hours. According to the man in charge of the organization, the group’s members would like to see the Space Act Initiative included in the 2016 American budget. He told me the same theme that Bajakian expressed: that people need to feel that they are part of the space community and its success won’t depend on them getting a piece of the action. In recent years, for the most part, this sentiment has been ignored.
Why does NASA have to give up its human space travel program? Is a new private space program, or even a new type of satellite, preferable to a