Posted tagged ‘space’

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

July 21, 2011

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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