Where will NASA go in 20 years? It may depend on private space and China

NASA's human spaceflight program has been in low-Earth orbit since 1972. Will we go beyond in the next 20 years?

Enlarge / NASA’s human spaceflight program has been in low-Earth orbit since 1972. Will we go beyond in the next 20 years? (credit: NASA)

Anniversaries offer a moment for reflection, so when Ars Technica reached the start of its 20th anniversary recently, I inevitably paused to consider the state of US human spaceflight in 1998.

In 1998, NASA launched the Lunar Prospector mission, which found water on the Moon. It was also the year when 15 countries came together to agree upon a framework for the International Space Station and later launched the first piece of the laboratory into orbit. And also that year, promisingly, NASA’s new X-38 spacecraft made its first successful test flight. All of these events would, in various ways, help determine the course of US spaceflight development that led us to today.

Looking back, one thing soon became clear: past is prologue, and the rhythm of history repeats itself. The human spaceflight achievements of 20 years ago seemed to foreshadow the current state of play in space, so seeing how the seeds planted then have both bloomed and withered likely offers some helpful perspective on what may happen in the future.

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