NASA may need to be rebuilt from the ground up, but surrendering the dream of manned exploration of space is certain to bring only a further sense that under this president, America is eager only to embrace mediocrity and a poverty of human spirit. ~Michael Auslin

As it happens, I watched the final shuttle launch this morning. It was a curious experience, as it marked the end of a program that had existed for almost my entire lifetime, but this does not trouble me in the least. Manned space flight has a certain romantic appeal, but it is a massively expensive exercise that serves very little practical purpose. I don’t deny that the shuttle program had some successes, especially when it came to repairing the Hubble telescope, but they were remarkably few. Had it not been for Cold War rivalry with the USSR, it is doubtful that there would have been similar significant investment in the space program, and there is even less reason for such spending today. As Auslin’s post suggests, promotion of the space program remains bound up with nostalgia for an earlier era and the space program’s function as a symbol of national power. This treats the aberration of Cold War-level support as if it were normal and desirable. It isn’t, and it’s long past time we started to realize that.

Update: Naturally, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio thinks that manned space flight is a national mission:

But the truth is it has always been our destiny. In the 19th century, it became our manifest destiny to explore and push westward until the American land stretched from sea to shining sea. And once we reached as far west as we could, Americans had no choice but to gaze up to the sky and settle on the stars as our next frontier.

We had no choice! Rubio skips the part where the U.S. went across the sea and annexed new territories against the will of their inhabitants. Presumably, we cannot rest until we have expanded our reach to Alpha Centauri. Fortunately, Rubio’s concern for the space program has nothing to do with “spending money to pay back political supporters.”