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NASA’s future in largely private hands?: Will the organization’s pronouncements on life in the universe change?

Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off Feb. 24, 2011, from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on its STS-133 mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jonathan Gibson)

At MSNBC’s Cosmic Log, Alan Boyle tells us “How tycoons will fuel space flight” (April 22, 2011):

With the shuttle program winding down, the future of American spaceflight may well depend on how starry-eyed tycoons spend their money — and some of NASA’s money as well.

Three of the four companies that are in line to receive $269.3 million from NASA for building future spaceships are privately held, and what’s more, they’re led by well-off individuals who have at least a hint of intrigue about them. The fourth company, Boeing, is partnering with Bigelow Aerospace, which was founded by hotel-chain billionaire Robert Bigelow and has its own orbital aspirations.

NASA has laid out a plan for paying out the money over the next year or so, with the aim of promoting the rise of a new set of spaceship operators in the post-shuttle era.

The article focuses on the remaining portion that the U.S. government funds, but some wonder, will there be philosophical changes? If the new NASA is strictly a business proposition, what will that portend? Will it, for example, be good or bad for scientists sympathetic to design in nature? Will NASA continue to “almost” find life in space, past life in space, or hosts of rare Earths? To be the purveyor of a certain way of looking at the universe?

Meanwhile, astronauts ponder a shuttle-free future.

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