Today’s launch of the space shuttle Atlantis begins the last flight of the modern American space program. Its scheduled return on July 20, 42 years after Americans first landed on the moon, will be a sad day, an ending.
The optimists are assuring us that ending the government-sponsored U.S. space program opens the door to privately sponsored space exploration, in which entrepreneurs will have market incentives to find more efficient ways to take humans far deeper into space.
The pessimists are not so sure. It is possible that government will kill private space travel, too. The most likely scenarios: Someone will complain that Private Launcher X’s rockets produce scary pollution, or Private Launcher Y will have one fatal accident, and the government will over-react. Result: Americans grounded forever.
I hope private companies will pick up the fallen baton. I hope they’ll find breakthroughs in energy and biology to thrust new manned (and womenned) spaceships to Mars and beyond. I pray the government that abandoned the new frontier doesn’t block others who are boldly determined to go.