While the astronomy community reels from the potential loss of the James Webb Space Telescope (see Julianne and Risa’s posts), it is appropriate that we also mark the passing of the Space Shuttle program. All being well, in about 15 minutes the last space shuttle will rocket into space (live video).
The space shuttle program was essential to the launch, and perhaps even more importantly, the multiple repairs of the Hubble Space Telescope. And it is the inevitable loss of the Hubble, and the absence of a worthy successor in space, that is leaving the astronomy community despondent.
These are difficult financial times. Brutal decisions need to be made. It is certainly conceivable that the United States (and the world) simply can no longer afford to finish off the James Webb Space Telescope. However, it is worth noting that this telescope in many ways symbolizes the best aspects of humanity: our thirst for knowledge, our desire for exploration, and our quest to find our place in the Universe. There is a reason that the Hubble space telescope captures the imagination of both practicing scientists and the general public. We cannot help but be moved and fascinated by images of the cosmos. Have we truly come to a point where we abandon this most noble and inspirational of pursuits?