Author Robert Zimmerman shared his insights into the past, present and future of space exploration, and offered analysis of such projects as the Hubble Telescope, the International Space Station, and the Shuttle program.
Space programs hit a lull after the Russian and US competition died down in the 1960's, he noted. Part of the problem for the US was that they didn't develop a second generation line of shuttles, and the country has also lacked in innovation and risk-taking.A booster for continued space explorations, he argued that such journeys are relevant to humanity because they "make you greater than you are."
Private enterprise holds promise, he said, with the X-Prize contest generating interest from some 27 companies trying to build craft that can make short flights into space. The co-founder of Pay-Pal, Elon Musk, has started a particularly promising venture called SpaceX(1), he added. Ironically, since communism ended in Russia, their space efforts have flourished through freedom and competition, whereas in the US, efforts have lagged because they are controlled by a centralized bureaucracy, Zimmerman opined.
A robotic mission to save the Hubble Telescope will launch in 2007 if the funding can be approved. A Canadian company, MD Robotics(1), which was involved in the 1993 repair of Hubble, has a two-armed robot known as the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (artist conception pictured) which is being considered for the task of installing new batteries and motion-controlled gyroscopes for the telescope.
A flight-ready "Dexter" is already completed and ready to be used for repair work on the International Space Station. "It's not a question of whether it will work, it's a question of whether we can build a copy of it in time to be able to contribute to saving the Hubble," Paul Cooper of MD Robotics told the Associated Press(2).
The robot, which can be controlled from the ground, has seven-jointed arms which end in "hands" that can work with a variety of tools, and are said to be able to touch and feel, not unlike a human.