Boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past

(Title stolen from The Great Gatsby, but you all knew that.)

This morning at about 6 AM Eastern time, Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth, ending the shuttle program. Any regular readers of my blog know that I have mixed feelings about the Shuttle: like most people, I’m thrilled and proud to see the sheer human accomplishment involved in getting people off the planet, but I wish for better things too. Instead of repeating things I’ve said earlier, here’s a roundup of links, both to others’ thoughts and to my own, about the shuttle and space exploration. The links are in no particular order.

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson makes an impassioned plea for NASA in this short video:
  • “O NASA! My NASA!” by Caleb Scharf is a lament for the abandonment of NASA by the United States government, pointing out the important role the agency plays in basic science research, not just in space exploration: “NASA’s funding has become a critical piece of the scientific productivity of the United States.”
  • “We Want a Spaceship, Not a Freight Truck” by Dave Mosher calls for a better system to get humans into space. After all, the Shuttle was originally intended to be a far more efficient (and less expensive) system than it ended up being. In the end, the price of the shuttle included the cost of other programs not funded.
  • “Where Now, NASA?” by Phil Plait points to several pieces he has written that express the typical mixed feelings a scientist and space-lover has about the Shuttle and the lack of a serious replacement program.
  • And from my own writings: “The End of an Era” explores my personal feelings towards the Shuttle — after all, for someone of my generation, the Shuttle has been the main way to get humans into space. On the other side of the issue, “Space Exploration is Not Over” and “Let Us Now Praise Famous Robots” are posts that focus on the aspect of space exploration that is often ignored: exploration by robots rather than people, which has enabled us to go farther and see more than we could directly.

If I may quote myself from Twitter, the proper tribute to the Shuttle is to write to your elected representatives and ask them to commit proper funding to NASA. If you live in the United States, here’s how to find and contact your U.S. Representative, and how to contact your U.S. Senators. If you want to name specific projects to fund, consider mentioning the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is the next generation large orbiting observatory. We can help space exploration to thrive with a little commitment.

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