Dan Smith: Exploring space thing of the past for United States

May. 05, 2013 @ 11:04 PM

In the news recently was an story about the price that America has to pay to get a lift to the Space Station. It is costing NASA $424 million to grab a seat for our six astronauts to go into space, which we pay to Russia.

That’s to and from from the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz spacecraft, as well as training.

$70.6 million per seat is a hefty pricetag. The Russians provide the only way to get into space these days so it’s take it or stay earthbound.

Our ability to get us launched into space ended in 2011 with the disbanding of the shuttle program. Even before our space shuttle program ended, we were already using the Russian transport.

We do have another thing going for us, though, in private travel by a California company called Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX. It is already making cargo runs to the space station. The owner of this private space travel is billionaire Elon Musk, who said its would be able to deliver our astronauts up there by 2015.

I saw several flights with their test pilots on TV a few years ago and it worked. They had to get the bugs out, but apparently they did. This free-enterprise thing seems to inspire new technology by Americans to compete.

Competition is what makes us great and gives the public a choice at a reduced price. My hat is off to these guys who have put their money and time and their dreams into action to help our country move forward again.

There are many spaceships on the drawing board from private companies that look like something from the future. One is called the Skylon, by British aerospace firm Reaction Engines Limited. It is 270 feet long; speed of mach 5 (3,800 mph); operating altitude about 125 miles in space. It will be ready by 2018.

There is another called the Green Machine with a speed of 1,300 mph. It can go from London to Hawaii in 3.9 hours. Unfortunately it won’t be ready until 2030.

Right now the fastest aircraft in the world is NASA’s X-43A at about 7,000 mph. That is 9 times faster than the speed of sound. It’s not practical, as it is a one time launch craft that can only sustain it’s life for a few seconds and then crashes into the sea.

I’m old enough to remember the space flight in July 1969 when we put our first man on the moon. That was also the year I graduated from high school.

Landing on the moon was such a surreal experience for us who were around back then to witness this feat. It was the stuff made for science fiction, but it was real and we were witnessing it first hand. I wonder if I’ll be here to see the first landing of man on Mars. It could happen in my lifetime; now that would really be science fiction.

American astronaut Karen Nyberg will be going in to space on May 28 at 4:31 p.m., launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Nyberg earned degrees from the Universities of North Dakota and Texas in mechanical engineering. She previously flew in space as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 2008.

Being from Ohio, I’m proud to say that one of America’s first test pilots, Neil Armstrong, also from Ohio, became an astronaut. He flew in many experimental rockets like the X-15, which reached a speed of 4,000 mph. It was men like him who put their lives on the line doing things that had never been tried before to see how far they could push it.

These flights made it possible for what we have today with the modern aircraft that are so much safer. I guess you could compare it to the early explorers who sailed west to see what was out there and if they would fall off of the planet. For those of you too young to remember, Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.

So here we are as a nation with no space program and no hope of moving beyond the moon in reaching out to the stars. We need to get back to the vision that President Kennedy had for reaching the moon back in the early ’60s. But with all the problems we face here on earth, maybe we should focus our efforts here first.

— Dan M. Smith is a Cincinnati native and Gatlinburg resident. He is the author of two novels. His son is serving in the Air Force. E-mail to dan0729@yahoo.com.