Here’s a word Americans should learn to become very familiar
with: LEO, pronounced just like the zodiac sign, though in this context it’s an
acronym for Low-Earth Orbit, a distance of a couple of hundreds miles above the
planet’s surface, such as where the space station flies.
It’s the only place we’ve been in space since 1972 when the
last Apollo crew returned from the moon and it’s the only place that anyone
else in the world that has managed to send people into space has ever gone.
America had high hopes of breaking out of LEO after the
shuttle program ends, going back to the moon, maybe out to an asteroid and then
eventually on to Mars, the holy grail of human space exploration. NASA got
started on the job with great enthusiasm and due diligence, racking up a $7.7
billion tab of the estimated $40 billion needed just to develop a new rocket
and capsule for astronauts to ride in.
Along came our new leader, President Barack Obama, who
decided to take stock. He appointed a panel of 10 wise men and women, headed by
the well-respected former chief executive of Lockheed Martin. They spent three