Pause in U.S. space leadership doesn’t refresh

It’s sad to see the pause button hit on U.S. leadership in space exploration, with the landing of Atlantis today marking the end of the 30-year space shuttle era that had 135 missions.

For the time being, U.S. astronauts have no way into space other than to hitch a ride with Russia or one of the other international players. Development of future American space vehicles is being left to private industry rather than NASA, which could lead to innovation or wheel-spinning.

We need to be careful not to fall too far behind in an endeavor that for 50 years has been a major source of national pride as well as technological advancement.

Cries that we shouldn’t worry about space when we have so many problems on earth are short-sighted. Space exploration will remain a significant driver of the world economy, and it makes no more sense to abandon  leadership to other countries than in information technology or autos.

The space program started out as a military imperative as much as a civilian program as the U.S. and Soviet Union raced to develop ever more deadly ways to deliver nuclear weapons and defend against them.

Now that nuclear weapons concerns have shifted more to dirty bombs than ICBMs, it makes sense to go the route of international cooperation in space through efforts such as the space station.

But like the other major areas of scientific research and economic development, there will be leaders and there will be laggards, and it’s in the U.S. national interest to maintain leadership.

I admit to a personal attachment to the shuttle program after covering its beginnings when I worked for a national news service in Washington, D.C.

I followed the shuttle as either a reporter on the scene or the editor in charge of coverage from the first flight of the Columbia that took John Young and Robert Crippen into space on April 12, 1981 through the 25th flight — the ill-fated Challenger mission of Jan. 28, 1986 on which we lost seven astronauts including Hawai‘i’s  Ellison S. Onizuka.

Getting a vehicle this big and complex safely into orbit and back as many times as we did was one of mankind’s greatest achievements.

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3 Comments on “Pause in U.S. space leadership doesn’t refresh”

  1. Doug Says:

    There is much more to learn from un-manned space exploration, and it can be done a much lower cost. So, it’s sad to see the shuttle program end, but over a few decades we spent a huge sum to send a few hundred people into orbit to conduct experiments? Yawn.

  2. RichardGozinya Says:

    For the price of 30 years of space exploration we could almost, not quite, get the rail to both UH and Waikiki.

    I kid. Not really.

    But hey, I can remember when Tang was first introduced and we all thought it was named after the next door neighbor.

  3. Hugh Clark Says:

    Always thought of NASA as a nice option to the miitary-industrial complex President Ike warned us about at his exit. Always lamented his successors paid so little attention to his sage advice..

    Technical and medical break throughs from space planning and testing made me think it had a nice payback.

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