Copyright © 2019
by Ralph F. Couey
One of my first reliable memories is sitting near my mother on a beautiful day in May while we both listened to the reporting of Alan Shepard's suborbital flight. Yes, on the radio. I think it was pretty much that moment when the endless unknowns and adventures of space travel.
From then until the last Apollo mission to the moon, I remained riveted. Even after our manned missions outside of earth orbit ended, there were other missions to follow and marvel at. Most vividly, the missions of the Voyager spacecraft as they swept through the solar system returning amazing heart-stopping images of distant planets and moons. Both probes are beyond the immediate boundaries of the solar system, but still have to navigate the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud before actually leaving their home star for good.
Exploration continues, albeit with robotic probes and not with humans. We now know what Pluto looks like. We have close-up images of two Kuiper Belt objects, one of which I still think should have been entitled "BB-8." Three dune buggies have been crawling along the surface of Mars, two of which have long outlasted their expected lives. While these missions have been informative, even scintillating they will never fully replace the human explorer.
So, what lies next? NASA is committed to establishing a permanent habitat on the moon, and is taking the long view towards eventually putting human boot prints on Mars. But there could be other things to do as well.