The upcoming flight of the space shuttle Discovery brings a glimmer of light in the dark tunnel of space science in the United States. For the first time in over two years, there is hope that some of the experiments and space probes gathering dust in laboratories will finally get off the ground.
But any rejoicing will probably be muted. The fact is that the shuttle has hurt the space science program. It contributed very little while it was flying, and the Challenger accident disrupted the space science program very badly. Payloads almost never flew when scheduled. In fact, no major scientific payloads were ever launched by the shuttle.
This isn't to say that we should never have built the shuttle. Unlike James Van Allen, I believe that manned space flight is essential for several reasons—to maintain public support, to perform certain servicing and repair functions in space, for exploration,...
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