There is one reason and one reason only for my country’s government-run space program to exist: to beat the Russkies to the Moon. And we met our goal, and then the USSR fell apart some years later, and we were stuck with a government body that was a Cold War relic, based on a situation that no longer exists. NASA was not structured to further vague, cloudy sentiments like “scientific discovery for the good of mankind.” Despite what they might say in public, people feel instinctively that their taxes should not be used to pay for things that have no concrete goal.
No one could say definitely what the space shuttle was for, only that the concept certainly didn’t seem to live up to the romantic vision of space exploration. As a matter of fact, the word “shuttle” implies public transportation. In other words, it was a bus. If there’s one thing I know about my fellow Americans, it’s that we don’t like the bus. We’ll take the bus — we’ll put up with them — but we don’t like them. Also, the space shuttle was barely a “space” anything. Going no further than the satellite that bounces your HBO signal to your tv isn’t going “into outer space.”
Perhaps science fiction is to blame. As long as outer space shows us a pretty but empty face, we’ll be content with using our imagination to populate the stars while we stay right here on Earth. In space no one can hear your sigh of disappointment. As for future exploration and colonization of “outer space,” leave that to some eccentric with more money than sense. It’s how most of us ended up here and why I’m not writing this in a cottage in England. Dammit.