I read with interest a news article on Yahoo about a group of engineers at NASA who are concerned that the Ares rockets being designed right now aren't up to the task of getting America back into space after the Shuttle retires. They're so concerned, in fact, that they have been designing and building their own secret rocket!
Called the Jupiter, the rocket is being worked on in the off-hours of NASA engineers. They're keeping their identities secret for fear of being fired. However, their work is getting some attention from the media (like the Orlando Sentinel and Universe Today, which I just happened to see as I was drafting this post).
I think this is fine. In fact, I hope that this lives up to the hype! I like NASA just fine, but it's a government agency, and it tends to pad -- sometimes very generously -- the machinery it builds to help spread the pork around. The Space Shuttle was billed as a "space truck", able to launch dozens of times per year and costing less than other methods of getting to space. How did that work out for NASA, hmmm? The space station was supposed to be for science, and to help us as a stepping stone to the Moon and planets. Right.
And Ares, the new rockets designed to get big payloads to low Earth orbit, to the Moon, and beyond, looks good on paper, but who knows how this will really work out? I think some competition -- especially from the inside -- may very well spur NASA to rethink what it's doing, and that's not such a bad thing. This may turn out to be nothing more than some big dreamers, or it may be more like Salvage-1, but either way I don't have any problem with people casting a critical eye towards NASA's plans.
I want us in space, and I want us there to stay. Maybe NASA will be the ones to do it. Maybe it'll be China, or India, or Space X, or Virgin Galactic. But this needs to be done right, and the only way to do that is to keep being skeptical, keep being critical, and make sure that promises made are promises kept.