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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Last shuttle launch casts doubt on future of NASA's prestige in U.S.

The space shuttle Discovery took its final voyage Thursday to the International Space Station.

It was NASA’s third-to-last shuttle launch, which for some students represents a saddening finality for a staple of scientific and American pride.

Some students think the U.S. will lose something special when NASA’s shuttle program ends.

“The space exploration is the stuff that everyone loves,” said Peter Nguyen, a UF physics and astronomy double major. “It’s a source of national pride.”

Evan Kassof, a UF physics and music composition double major, said a big loss will be the diminishing role of an iconic hero: the astronaut.

“The sad thing is we won’t have astronauts, and that will make American kids even less interested in science,” he said.

NASA’s budget for 2011 is $19 billion, but the  Obama administration canceled NASA’s funding for the Constellation program  — a plan that would have returned Americans to the moon — and will retire its fleet of shuttles to be museum pieces.

Haywood Smith, undergraduate coordinator for astronomy at UF, said while most of his students want to be professors or do research, some are interested in working for NASA. A few want to be astronauts.

“Astronomy… It’s been a little tight, just like physics,” Smith said. “It’s not good to make it any tighter.”

Kassof said there isn’t a good reason to spend billions of dollars to send people into space when, in some cases, robots can gather more data with less financial expense.

“The only reason people like space anymore is the whole romantic idea of exploring the unexplored,” he said.

The U.S. will still have missions to the International Space Station until 2020, but Nguyen said American astronauts will have to ask for a lift from Russia to get to the space station.

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He said that at the start of the space age, there were grand ideas of men colonizing Mars and exploring planets in other solar systems.

That, he said, now seems unlikely.

“So, what happened to all those ideas? It’s kind of depressing if you think about it,” Nguyen said.

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