The original idea of the space shuttle was that it was primarily for making space flights routine and cost effective. However, in the many years since the first Space Shuttle flight, the cost of traveling into space is still very expensive and not a routine activity. There has been virtually no reduction in cost, and it still remains at more than $10,000/pound, a sum that has not been reduced. The idea of replacing the shuttle is basically to cut this cost by a factor of 10 and be in line with competing technologies, such as the European 5 rocket, costing much less than the American rockets.
Although much has been learned from these space shuttle flights is knowledge which will prove invaluable for future Space Launch Vehicles. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) has found that the programs for space do not enjoy the support of the public or amongst the nation’s leadership. Due to many factors, the Space Shuttle failed to make the required changes or develop further, and there were also no efforts to develop alternate means to access space, meaning that there is no backup plan. Due to the slow progress of most things by the government sector, the public sector has taken up the imitative, and founded X-prize Foundation offering $10 million to the first person or organization that can launch a privately funded spaceship, that can carry 3 people to 100 Kilometers into space, return safely to Earth and reuse the same ship after two weeks.
On June 21st, 2004, the first spacecraft designed by Burt Rutan, reached outer space and returned, but the flight had many problems, and Rutan said he would try again for the X-prize when all the kinks had been ironed out of his spacecraft. The progress by the public sector has been quite impressive, but the fact remains that the government is at least 50 years ahead of the public sector. Without the appropriate motivation and the considerable red tape in government, things move at a snail’s pace. However, on issues of national and political self-importance, these wheels move much faster.
This was the case when the Russian were competing with the Americans for supremacy in Space. Now, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Russians themselves lack the financial resources for space exploration, and for all practical purposes, their space program is virtually at a standstill. However, the new entrants in Space exploration are the Chinese, who possess the technology and the financial power and have become the third nation to put a man into orbit. They can challenge the Americans who are currently the champions in the aerospace field.