You’ll have to follow this link to read P.J. O’Rourke‘s fabulous description of the awe-inspiring scene created by the final launch of an American space shuttle. But I will quote from his Weekly Standard piece on the topic to highlight O’Rourke’s reaction to the shuttle’s demise:
We used to have presidents who liked to send Americans places—Iraq, Afghanistan, the Moon, or Mars. But George W. Bush’s NASA Constellation program has been canceled. Its gigantic Ares V rocket is off the drawing board. The Constellation’s Orion flight capsule has been renamed, in a telling translation into GovSpeak, MPCV—“Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.” What the multiple purposes are supposed to be is anyone’s guess. At the moment the only way NASA can get a person into space is by paying Vladmir Putin for a ride on the creaky old Soyuz. Looks like the Russians won the space race after all. Meanwhile America’s government has not funded, or even proposed, anywhere new for people to go beyond low Earth orbit. Never mind that the observable universe is 92 billion light years across and would seem to offer ample travel opportunities.
In a rare outburst of bureaucratic blunt truth, Michael Leinbach, the Atlantis launch director, told colleagues at the Kennedy Space Center, “We’re all victims of poor policy out of Washington. . . . I’m embarrassed that we don’t have better guidance.”
On the trip to Florida I explained America’s space exploration to [my son] Cliff as well as I could. In a sense he understands better than I do. To him space travel is not an extraordinary phenomenon but a long-standing historical movement, an inevitability in the course of human affairs. It’s what the discovery and settlement of the American West was to me when I was his age, before Manifest Destiny was insulted in grade schools.