"There's your new spacecraft, America".

Those were the words NASA's mission control commentator used as the Orion capsule came safely back to earth.

It was a declaration that spoke of politics and prestige. The United States demonstrating its superpower status to the world.

But what of the reality? At the height of the Cold War, the US devoted over four percent of its total federal budget to space exploration.

Today NASA gets less than a tenth of that. The US space agency is a shadow of its former self.

The Orion will not fly again until 2018 at the earliest. But the new space race is not with the Soviet Union; it is with private enterprise.

One crowdfunded private consortium, Mars One, is aiming to put humans on the Red Planet a decade earlier than NASA.

Another company, Planetary Resources, is planning to mine asteroids for rare metals.

And for the super-rich, there is the promise of space tourism from Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

So what is the future of space travel?

Presenter: Adrian Finighan


Miles O'Brien, Science and Space Correspondent, in Washington DC

Robert Massey, Deputy Executive Secretary, Royal Astronomical Society, in Bristol, England

Yuri Karash, Space Policy Expert, in St Petersburg, Florida

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Source: Al Jazeera