The space shuttle program ends Friday with the planned final launch of the shuttle, Atlantis. Like so many other things in the Obama administration, this greatest of American scientific achievements is being scuttled, supposedly because of cost. But the discoveries we have made with manned spaceflight have more than made up for the cost.
The administration and NASA say manned flight is not ending, exactly, but we aren’t developing the rockets and spacecraft to conduct further explorations outside low orbit. We’ll be hitching rides on Russian and other rockets and we won’t be exploring deep space and Mars.
This is about inspiration, heroism and leadership. We need these qualities – “the right stuff,” as Tom Wolfe called the astronauts – more than ever. Experienced space workers are leaving the program. Their knowledge will take years to replace. America can’t afford to lose its leadership in space or others, like china, will take our place. And that would not be a good thing.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist based in Washington, D.C.