Obama announced that we’d be giving up recently. For any further manned space exploration, we’ll be hitching rides on a Soviet-era rocket largely maintained by Russia, launched out of Kazakhstan. The USSR doesn’t even exist anymore, and they haven’t given up — we’re riding their rockets to the space station starting next year.
I never bought into Bush’s “big vision, small funding” fib about walking on Mars. I’m not convinced that landing on Mars is obtainable, or scientifically desirable. But I expected we’d be doing something in space. Asteroid travel, perhaps.
Not only is the shuttle ending, there’s nothing to replace it. America gave up on the moon before I was born, and now it’s giving up on manned space flight. What’s next? Watching the Hubble Telescope degrade, the GPS satellites give way, and hoping to piggyback on Japan’s, or Europe’s willingness to continue pushing forward in science?
For elemental physics, we’ll be depending on results from the Hadron Supercollider in Europe, because America decided to scrap its prototype in Texas years ago. How long before we give up on all colliders as unnecessary expense?
Our policy of giving up is starting to show. The number of patents awarded in America (not necessarily to Americans) has held largely even over the last four years, while the EU climbs steadily and has half again as many. Japan is also steadily rising up the ranks in the patent race.
NASA never demands commercial rights for its discoveries, but if they did we’d perhaps see how important they are. Heck, if NASA received its deserved cut for discovering the water-absorbent gel now used universally in diapers and hygiene products, it could probably build a moon base. Instead, it’s an easy target for people who think science isn’t important. True, NASA takes up some budgetary scraps that are dwarfed by the Department of Defense’s exorbitant spending to prepare for the last war, or the latest “bailout”. Those scraps could go toward other goals, but that’s always true, and always will be.
I don’t know if there’s a larger point to this. I just have trouble accepting the fact that as the richest, most powerful nation on Earth, we no longer seek to lead it in science. We’ve given up.