Ares was violence personified – the god of bloodlust in contrast to the more strategic thinking of Athena. And NASA’s new Ares I rocket, the agency’s first new rocket system in 35 years, may be living up to its name. This article reports on problems with the program, which is intended to replace the Space Shuttle with the Ares I rocket launching humans into orbit and the separate Ares V rocket launching cargo.
My students are startled to learn that the Space Shuttles are slated for retirement in 2010, leaving the US entirely dependent on Russia’s Soyuz rockets for access to orbit for at least four years. Developing a new system of rockets was bound to be difficult and it is not surprising to find it plagued with design problems, cost overruns, and delays.
The public has lost much of its past interest in spaceflight. We lack the national will to return to the moon or send humans to Mars unless we get into another Space Race, this time with China. There isn’t much point in sending humans beyond orbit when robotic probes can gather so much data for us remotely, except for the emotional impact of witnessing humans visiting other planets.