Space Shuttle AtlantisWith the end of the Shuttle program, 8,000 people have been laid off. No more shuttle missions have been scheduled. All of the shuttles have been retired to museums. Great news for the museums around the country (especially the Smithsonian). I’m sure people will be lining up all over the place to see the vehicles that took us to the beginning of space, but I’m sure it hasn’t pleased those getting laid off. I mean, isn’t it just wonderful that now an additional 8,000 people have been added to the unemployment lines at this most opportune time when unemployment is still hovering at 9.2% and the economy still hasn’t recovered from the recession (do I hear “Double-Dip Recession” again?). And, of course Congress passed a budget in just enough time to forestall the debt-default, keeping our AAA credit as a country (just don’t get me started on the FAA shutdown fiasco to save a couple million dollars only to create a loss of a couple billion dollars every day!). Anyone care for some Vaseline? Because Congress surely isn’t passing it out…

But I digress.

So now we’re left with a NASA that’s missing a limb. The Shuttle Missions have been one of the most important thing in the American space program for the longest time – 30 years is a long time for a series of missions! And that is only counting the years they’ve been flying missions. At the risk of giving away my age, I remember sitting in school for the decade before, going through the news clippings with the teacher and my classmates about this new space shuttle program, rockets that were shaped like planes being developed by NASA and tested for aerodynamics on the back of really big planes. Our faces were all aglow with the wonder only a child could experience, our eyes were wide with anticipation of space flight like we never knew before! Once again, America was at the head of the space race, and we were going to bask in this glory for a looooong time.

As of a few weeks ago, NASA is no longer in the business of space shuttle travel. Instead, they’re leaving that for the private sector, and businesses like Boeing (and others) are jumping in with both feet. Come to think of it, perhaps these businesses will be able to do something NASA was never able to do – run an efficient agency that is not dictated to by the same Congress that can’t even balance its own budget in a timely manner and lets things fall apart because they can’t see past their own noses; instead, arguing like a bunch of 3-year-olds over a favorite toy!

But I digress.

Perhaps we’ll actually be able to accomplish something more as a race (as opposed to “country”) with these private businesses, who knows? These are businesses that will have to answer to a Board of Directors and (gasp) stockholders who will demand a profit as opposed to just throwing money away without result. At least in the mean time, this frees up NASA to look farther into space, and further into their own future: Finding water on Mars, and learning the secrets of the solar system by studying Jupiter. They still have a lot of pokers in the fire, too, and balls in the air.

As for those 8,000 newly unemployed people? I hear there are a couple of really good big businesses that might be looking for rocket scientists…

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