The future of the United States manned space program is uncertain, as this article reports, and current economic conditions aren’t helping matters. I am a big booster of space exploration, and I think it would be tragic if the United States lost its leadership role in that area. It was a bad decision to cut back the space program in the 1970s, and it would be a worse decision to further reduce space exploration now.
As I have argued before, our elected leaders should view the space program as a kind of public works program that has, during the 50 years of its existence, helped to spur tremendous advances in technology, computer systems, and other areas that have been of immediate and lasting benefit to our society. (To say nothing, of course, of Tang and the food called “Space Food Sticks” that was sold when I was a kid, but that is an entry for another day.) Money spent on rejuvenating the space program and pursuing exploration, Moon bases, and so forth obviously will have greater long-term impact than widening a road, paying part of the salary of an employee of an arts organization, or other uses of “stimulus” package spending.
I am hopeful that President Obama will realize the terrible symbolic message that would be sent by a decision that takes the United States out of manned space exploration. President Kennedy challenged and inspired a nation with his declaration that we would try to land a man on the moon in a decade. America rose to that challenge. President Obama and his advisors should not make a decision that indicates they believe that our country is no longer capable of doing so. A President whose campaign theme was “Yes, We Can” should not be heard to say “No, We Can’t” when it comes to assuming a continued leadership role in space exploration.