I am underwhelmed by how far we haven’t come in space exploration since the 60’s.
You know i see this comment a lot and as a huge fan of the space program i sympathize to some degree but i think people are overlooking the amazing accomplishments of the space program in the past 3 decades. Space exploration isn’t all about humans in space. Yes that s the part that gets the most headlines but dollar for data robotic space missions are the best value. I;m not arguing against human space exploration but when you think of how hard it is to do this stuff it is really mind blowing what NASA has done with its robotic program especially when you compare it to what the rest of the world has (not) done.
Just take a look up in the sky one night when Mars is visible and then imagine trying to send a robotic ship in the direction of that planet and getting it to land automatically and safely not just on that little dot but on a tiny dot on that tiny dot and then sending home gigabytes of data and photos over the distance of a hundred million miles or more. Or even more amazing, take a look at Saturn and picture the incredible engineering it took send a vehicle into orbit around that planet and with that same ship visit nearly every moon in the mini solar system that is Saturn and incredibly landing a probe succesfully on one of those moons.
The U.S. is the only country to successfully land a craft on Mars that transmitted for more than a few minutes and we’ve done it several times. We are the only country to have ever landed a rover on Mars, first with Pathfinder and most recently with Spirit and Opportunity which have out lasted their expected life spans by almost 8 years. Now Curiosity which is the size of a small car is on the way Mars and if you haven’t already seen the animation of the mission take a look here. If that doesn’t wow you I don’t know what will.
For the record the U.S. is still the only country to ever send a probe beyond Mars and we’ve done it numerous times through out the past decades. We’ve sent the Pioneer probes which were the first probes to ever fly by Jupiter and saturn and are about to become the first manmade objects to enter interstellar space and are still transmitting and doing science after 30 years in space. The Voyager probes which each did a grand tour of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are also on their way out of the Solar system and are making ground breaking discoveries about the heliosphere. We’ve sent orbiters to Jupiter (Galileo and now Juno en route) and Saturn ( Cassini) and have launched New horizons, the first probe to fly by pluto which is currently en route.
Of course there were missions to comets and the current ongoing mission to asteroids Ceres and Vesta which will be the first probe to orbit one heavenly body and then leave orbit and visit a second one. Don’t forget the missions closer to home like the Hubble telescope and Kepler which recently discovered over a thousand extrasolar planets
The science done by these missions has changed our view of the universe as we know it and NASA was behind all of them. Sure we haven’t had a dramatic manned mission to grab the headlines but as much as I would love to see us land on Mars, those who really care about the science know that manned missions are more about politics and showmanship than they are about science. You have to give NASA its due. They have done amazing things with the funds they have been given even while most of their money has gone to keeping the space shuttle and the ISS going.