If weather cooperates, the last NASA shuttle mission launches today.
The launch marks the end of an era that started with the Apollo project in the 1950s and inspired our nation to dream big and invest in science–an investment that paid off. Not only did we send a man to the moon, the technology created or supported by NASA science–satellite-based technology alone–has revolutionized communications, weather predictions, and global surveillance.
It will now be up to Russia, likely China, and perhaps a handful of private companies to send people in to space. NASA will focus on robotics, which are evidently more cost efficient and in many ways more capable than humans of collecting data and distant travel.
There are mixed reactions to the last of NASA’s foreseen manned shuttle launches. NASA’s spending, with reported costs of $450 million (or more) per shuttle launch, have been controversial, especially in a time of massive budget cuts across the nation. And the goal of making manned space travel a routine task, never materialized. However, NASA does more than launch people into space, it stimulates international cooperation, develops cutting edge technologies, and inspires children to love science and exploration. Like Neil DeGrasse Tyson said (I paraphrase), kids don’t dream about being molecular biologists, they dream about being astronauts.