News Analysis: Despite the brave talk from NASA and aerospace contractors, the U.S. has thrown in the towel in manned space exploration with the launch of the final shuttle mission.
watched the final
space shuttle launch
just as I did the first one-on television. There were
differences. When Columbia launched, I was watching the television mounted on
the bulkhead of the wardroom of a U.S. Navy Perry-class frigate.
afterward, I walked out on deck to see the tiny, bright speck followed by an
immense cloud as it reached into the Florida sky miles down the coast from our
pier. That was the last time I actually saw
a shuttle launch
it was a much improved television, and a much clearer view. And after all of
these years, it's still hard to believe the magnificence when you see 4.4
million pounds of exquisitely complicated spacecraft ascend into the heavens.
But that was the last time I'll ever see such a flight. For the launch of
Atlantis was more than the end of a program. The launch of Atlantis was the end
of manned spaceflight in the United States. We will never see another craft
carrying people launch from the Kennedy Spaceflight Center.
I know that there are a lot of people who believe the brave words of NASA that
we will return in four years-that we will have another spacecraft, perhaps one
from Space-X, perhaps one from another contractor. But the fact is this will
never happen. The federal bureaucracy, combined with aggressively anti-science
members of Congress, will ensure that another flight carrying a person never leaves
from a NASA facility
also know that there are several private efforts under way that promise manned
spaceflight. Virgin Galactic will probably provide suborbital rides to space
for the very rich. There are other companies that promise to do the same. But
these do nothing for the advancement of science. They do nothing for the
exploration of space. They are entertainment, pure and simple.
how is it that the U.S., a once-proud space-faring nation, has given up? It is,
in short, because we no longer have the political and intellectual will to do
things that are hard. We no longer wish to stir ourselves from our comfort to
strive for anything. It wasn't always that way.
choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because
they are easy, but because they are hard," said President John F. Kennedy
speaking at Rice University on Sept. 12, 1962. Kennedy was explaining why it
was necessary to spend the money and effort to create a real space program, and
he set forth to inspire the U.S. to do it. I remember every step of the way.