The last American space shuttle mission launched Friday, and the head of the Kentucky Space organization says the end of the program could mark the beginning of a new period of innovation. Without the shuttle program, organizations like Kentucky Space that send research projects into orbit will have to find other vessels to carry the cargo. That means foreign, unmanned and privately-operated craft.
Kentucky Space president Kris Kimel says those are all viable options, and ones his organization has explored before. But, he hopes manned spaceflight resumes in the near future.
“Nothing replaces humans in space in terms of creativity, innovation, looking at situations and being able to analyze them and respond to them,” he says. “Certainly, despite machines, the human brain is still the most sophisticated, extraordinary thinking machine we have.”
Kimel adds that the lack of the shuttle program will likely spur more innovation among the remaining and new organizations participating in space exploration.
“Obviously [I'm] a little bit concerned about the lack, in the interim, us having the ability to put humans in space. But I think in the long run, this will stimulate a lot of innovation,” he says.
Kentucky Space has performed a number of experiments involving American spacecraft. Most recently, a research project on how cancer cells behave in low gravity was sent on Friday’s shuttle flight.