There was a Salon article that talked about manned space flight ending just because the space shuttle was being retired. There is certainly a lot more that can be done with robotic exploration of space but the article is completely wrong to predict the end of manned space flight. In fact we are at the beginning of a boom in sending people into space.
Human spaceflight is not ending. NASA getting out of space shuttles is not relevant.
I think we are on the cusp of big changes in technology both for space and for energy.
Spacex Falcon Heavy should be ready in 2013. It will be able to launch 50-60 tons and will get man rated. The Falcon Heavy will lower costs to about $1000 per pound
Bigelow Aerospace, who make the inflatable space stations, is getting a big expansion, increasing staff by 11 times and increasing production
Combined the two will be able to launch space stations with volumes larger than the International Space station in a single launch.
Bigelow will be adding an expansion module onto the ISS and it could rotate (providing gravity like centrifuge forces.)
Russia is developing a megawatt nuclear power system for space
Vasimr plasma 200 kw rockets are going to be flown in space shortly and there is a roadmap and likely progress to higher power systems.
Richard Dell and George Miley have the initial funding for a development program for nuclear fusion for space propulsion. I think that they have a development path for sub-unity devices that have higher performance for maneuvering thrusters that then scales up to a nuclear fusion powered space plane in around the 2025 timeframe.
Giving Bigelow competition are some european companies with government backers trying to get to space hotels.
The energy catalyzer could be the real deal and that could change energy and space and many things and this could hit within 2 years.
Solar electric sails should have a prototype in 2012 that flies in space. That could scale relatively easily and robotic flying of many cheap solar electric sails can unlock space based resources.
Solar electric sails and other systems could also be used to shepard asteroids.
Auto-piloted robotic systems combined with super-long endurance space propulsion will enable robotic spacecraft to explore anywhere in the solar system and enable massive cost reduction and enablement of manned space exploration.
There are also new capabilities that will come from far cheaper superconducting wire, which will mean better high field magnets (which will be good for nuclear fusion).
Power beaming and fuel depots can also radically alter the near term capabilities for space development.
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