What will the next fifty years in space bring?
2007 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Space Age, agreed by most to have begun with the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik, on October 4th, 1957. While some are taking stock of the last fifty years of space exploration, noting what has been accomplished and, more importantly, what has not been accomplished, others are wondering what the next fifty years might bring. And therein lays the problem.
What is accomplished and what is not accomplished in space, at least by the public sector, is affected by the vagaries of politics and the changing priorities of political players. These things can barely be forecasted year by year, not to mention over decades. Thrown into that mix is the private sector, a factor that was never imagined in 1957. What sort of space related markets will arise and how private companies will respond can barely be guessed at. Finally, tying the two together, what will be the relationship between the private and public sectors? Will that relationship be amicable or mutually hostile or somewhere in between? Technology can advance in strange and unexpected directions as well.
Still, if one makes certain assumptions, one can come up with a plausible scenario of what might happen in space over the next fifty years. The following, being just such a scenario, is not an absolute prediction of what will happen, but rather what might happen. In a way it can be considered a hope for what should happen.