The end of the Shuttle Program was (and still is) a very concerning and confusing time for amateur space-exploration enthusiasts. The cause for concern is certainly understandable, but it was (and still is) made worse by the timing of a few other external factors that seemed to directly influence the future of NASA; namely, the instability of the American Economy in the past five years and the Republican Presidential Primaries which saturated popular media for most of 2011 and early 2012.
During the primaries, NASA and space exploration in general, became a hot topic of debate. To sum it up cleanly, Newt Gingrich made an ambitious and expensive commitment to American Space exploration which his rivals quickly tore apart. In my opinion, Gingrich’s stance on the matter was overly ambitious and expensive, and he definitely wasn’t doing space exploration enthusiasts any favours by throwing his vision onto the debate floor as political fodder.
With the economy receding steadily, budget cuts everywhere and little commitment from the three leading Republican candidates, it’s easy to see how the NASA looked doomed.
NASA isn’t doomed though! They are still doing science and there’s some amazing things coming down the pipe. One of the most ambitious and exciting is the Mars Exploration Program. There is so much going on with this particular project that NASA created a Mars Exploration Program info site where anyone can learn what it’s all about, check up on the program’s progress and (most importantly) learn some awesome stuff. Check it out and get back to being excited for space exploration.
Side Note: As further reassurance, the Shuttle Program was originally intended to be a sort of space truck, assisting in the construction of the ISS and that’s it. The program outlived its scheduled decommission date by 15 years.
Also, Gingrich’s opponents were not against funding space exploration altogether; you can blame the media for that one. They were opposed to Gingrich’s unrealistic stance on the matter. NASA still had support from the candidates, just not to the degree that ol’ Newt was pushing.