Private industry has little reason to invest in endeavors where the result is not returns, but greater scientific knowledge or understanding
Sometime Friday, or in the next few days, weather and mechanics permitting, the very last Space Shuttle mission will depart the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. For some, this marks a great loss in our national vision, capability and space endeavors. To my mind (and I've written six books on NASA history, so I have at least a bit of background on the subject), the ending of the Shuttle program is merely an ending of a chapter -- and a less-than-overwhelmingly productive chapter, at that.
In an article on the closing down of the Shuttle program in Tuesday's Science Times, space writer Dennis Overbye called the Shuttle "the space truck to nowhere." Fun for the astronauts involved, somehow cool to think humans were still leaving the planet but ... with the notable exceptions of servicing the Hubble Space Telescope and a couple of other satellites ... an era rather devoid of any astounding expansions in science, understanding or capability." It's why commercial companies may well be able to take over the bulk of the relatively simple (relative being the operative word, there) low Earth orbit experiences and supply missions.