Americans would not tolerate a situation in which deployment of U.S. troops to a trouble spot abroad depended on a call to Moscow, Brussels or Tokyo asking if we could please borrow transport aircraft or ships for the purpose. Yet, last Thursday, we entered just such a situation regarding a potential theater of war - space.
When space shuttle Atlantis touched down at Cape Canaveral, Fla., last Thursday morning, it marked the official end of the program. More than 30 years in which the United States could rely on shuttles to carry out missions in space came to an end.
For about the next five years, any missions requiring that American astronauts and/or equipment be sent into space will rely on launch vehicles owned by Russia, the European Union or Japan. It is expected they will charge hefty fees for assisting us in that regard. NASA will become a follower, not a leader, in effect.
Cancellation of the shuttle program was a decision of President Barack Obama's administration. It was decided U.S. resources would be spent better in developing deep-space technology such as that needed to send crews of astronauts to Mars or, perhaps, asteroids. Missions to sites served by the shuttle, such as the International Space Station, can be handled by private industry, the White House determined.
But NASA estimates it will take at least five years for industry to develop the needed technology. In the meantime, the only option is paying for space on rockets controlled by Moscow, Tokyo and Brussels (where the EU is headquartered). If for any reason those three space powers decide not to accommodate us, missions requiring U.S. personnel and/or equipment such as that formerly carried by the shuttles will have to be delayed or scrapped.
Many Americans are aware of the militarization of space, primarily through surveillance satellites. Less well known are other military potentials including missile defense and aggressive use of spacecraft to launch attacks such as those using electromagnetic pulses. Experts have pointed out that EMPs are an enormous threat. They can be generated by nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, disabling anything operated electrically for radiuses of hundreds of miles.
Once, space-based attacks on the United States were the stuff of science fiction. Unfortunately, that no longer is the case. Because of the Obama administrations decision, Americans are about to let down our guard.
Military considerations are only some of those put forth by those concerned about cancellation of the shuttle program. Another is lost opportunities for research in space.
Cancellation of the shuttle program was a mistake. Members of Congress should insist it be reconsidered.