U.S. Manned Space Program Nears Extinction
In fact, the tragedy of Endeavour is that this is the last run. For a variety of reasons, or perhaps more accurately, excuses, there is no follow-on, at least not now. There's no doubt you'll hear some whining about the fact that we've been in a recession, so why waste money in space? Or you'll hear excuses about how it costs too much money. But the fact is that the United States has lost the political will to explore space. Where once this nation was the leader in space flight, in science and engineering, in math, now we've become losers.
We can, of course, blame any number of people for this. But the fault should be placed where it needs to be placed. After years of mismanagement by a series of administrations, the manned space program has devolved into a political mess in which NASA wasted much of its resources trying to satisfy Congress instead of run a space program. Despite this, the agency has had its share of successes. But one can only wonder what we might have achieved had it not been for political meddling in science.
Sadder still is there were once successors to the Shuttle, but the Obama administration killed them, and probably with some justification. These programs had become so bogged down in bureaucracy that they were years late and billions over budget. The same group of people who now can't figure out a budget also couldn't figure out how to let NASA go into space.
So, because of Congressional fumbling, ineptitude in the Executive branch and a complete lack of-well I won't use the word here, we're giving up. Space exploration will now be handled by the Europeans, the Japanese and the Chinese. It will be China that returns to the moon, not the United States. And it will probably be China that travels to Mars. The United States simply can't bring itself to accomplish a task that's truly difficult, like traveling into space. Sure, we've done it before, but this is all too hard. So instead we whimper and look inward instead of upward as we used to.
Still, Endeavour is in space as this is written. It'll be at the Space Station for a couple of weeks, and then it'll land and the second-to-last carcass of manned space will be fought over by cities that want it for tourist dollars. The second-to-last Shuttle crew will return to ordinary lives, doomed to never fly in space again. And by the final flight this summer, the United States will surrender its technical leadership to others. The end may take a while, but it's already started.