This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
America’s manned space program had its tragic bangs – the Challenger and Columbia catastrophes. But it is dying with a pathetic whimper.
With today’s final landing of the space shuttle Atlantis, the United States has dropped out of the astronaut-launching business. Americans will still do stints in the International Space Station, but they’ll be getting there and back aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Those would be the same Russians the United States so proudly bested in the “space race” in the 1960s. What a falling-off there’s been.
In theory, the private sector will pick up where NASA leaves off. Some aerospace companies, such as SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, are investing serious money in launch capacity.
Whether that translates into a real manned space program – as opposed to an occasional novelty flight – is iffy. Throwing satellites into orbit can be safe and profitable, but the risk and expense increase geometrically when astronauts involved.
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