One giant leap backward for mankind - Metro US

One giant leap backward for mankind

Space. The final frontier.

And this time, we mean it.

The shuttle Atlantis is now orbiting Earth for the last time and, by year end, the entire program will be shut down.

If astronauts want to get to the International Space Station, they’ll have to hitch a ride with the Russians, at least until private companies vying for the concession are ready to take off.

I can hardly wait for that: “Welcome to American Star Lines. We’re sorry for the 36-hour delay, but we had some problems with the transporter beam. If you’re one of those passengers whose luggage was inadvertently sent on to Alpha Centauri, please see our baggage personnel at the ISS. Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy the flight. There will be a $100 charge for oxygen. Please have the correct change ready.”

The shutdown of the shuttle program is a big blow — even bigger is U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision not to pursue a U.S. moon landing program, one of the few really positive ideas former president George W. Bush ever had.

Obama is targeting a manned orbit of Mars by 2035, but that’s 25 years away. As of right now, the U.S. space program is grounded.

For a generation raised on Star Trek, that’s unacceptable. I know it’s fashionable to disparage the space program, especially in a recession when we need money for the little things … like food.

But as extreme ayatollahs in Iran build nuclear bombs and we sweat the hottest decade in history, is it such a good idea to shut off our escape route? And am I the only one who sleeps better at night knowing there’s a little co-ed $100-billion seed pod of humanity orbiting the Earth … just in case the ayatollahs finally do learn to lock and load?

As Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, said to the U.S. Congress recently, Obama’s act “destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature.” Which puts the U.S. right in line with its happily second- or third-rate neighbour to the north. We’ve been punching below our weight for so long we can give our American cousins mediocrity lessons.

If we Canadians were men and women of vision and gumption we would pick up the space baton and head for the wide-open galaxies. Instead of just building the space arm gizmo on the mother ship, we could build the whole mother ship. First stop the moon. Then? In the immortal words of Buzz Lightyear: Infinity and beyond!

Er, excuse me. Once in a while my inner 11-year-old takes over. It’s a problem.

Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;

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