The historic final launch of Endeavour — watched by Gabrielle Giffords, the U.S. congresswoman shot in the head by a gunman in Arizona in January, and the wife of crew member Mark Kelly — should be a teachable moment for the United States and Canada.
The NASA space program is tapped out.
Once the final Atlantis flight lifts off in July, American and Canadian astronauts will be reduced to hitchhiking rides with the Russians, arguably more of a bruising of America’s pre-eminence than any setbacks in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Expected to fill the gap in manned space travel is the private sector, making the next decade a true teachable moment as to whether the private sector can pull it off when governments step back.
And there is a lot at stake.
Today’s technologies — GPS, TV, data networks, phone, weather tracking — are all dependent on privately owned satellites.
When failures happen, shuttle missions send in the repairmen, but who will they send once Endeavour and Atlantis are in permanent dry dock?
Then there’s the moon, rich in virtually every mineral essential to our high-tech future, the aptly named rare earth metals.
What little exists of these minerals on Earth are primarily found in communist China.
While it is no small challenge for our private sector, the race to mine the moon is a race that cannot be lost.
We must get there first.
The Ottawa Sun, Ontario (May 18)