WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) --- As thousands of Washingtonians nurse necks strained from looking into the sky Tuesday to see the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery, some wonder what the future holds for an American space program that doesn't currently have manned space flight as one of its missions.
"It's basically still quite healthy and quite active and strong," said Dr. Henry Hertzfeld of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, who talked about the stunning robotics employed in non-human space exploration.
"We're sending a new Mars science lab mission that's on its way right now.
"We still have experiments that are active with the space station, the International Space Station, and many other satellite programs and earth observations, and we still have an astronaut corps," he told 9News Now.
To a large extent, decisions about future manned programs come down to one thing.
"Money, basically. It's expensive and congress and NASA seem to have different views on human space flight at the moment, and these have to be worked out, and they're still debating and still talking about it," Hertzfeld said.
"Where are we going today? The answer is we really don't know," said Art Harman, the director of the Coalition To Save Manned Space Exploration.
"If we set a national strategy, that we will go to the moon and learn to live on another world and then we'll go to an asteroid to learn how to navigate in space and survive on a long space voyage, and then we'll go to Mars, you will find the American people will be behind that.Funding won't be a problem," he said.
"We need a little bit of leadership that says here's where we are going. Here's when we want to get there, and here's what awaits our wonderful nation," Harman said.
Harman watched the awe with which Washingtonians watched Discovery's flight Tuesday. "Why did they turn out to see it? Because that represents the hopes and dreams of our country and a positive future for our children and grandchildren," he said.
Some answers may not come until after the 2012 presidential election.
"I think we are trying to figure out exactly what we want to do in space and how we want to do it. Every adminstration has a different view on this," Hertzfeld told 9News Now.