The United States has launched its last Space Shuttle. This marks the end of a sometimes troubled, 30-year program that produced many technological advances and benefits. The program was costly, in terms of lives lost and money spent, and never fulfilled the original vision of nearly weekly space flights. Yet overall, the program had many successes, including completion of the International Space Station and launch and repair of the Hubble telescope.
The end of the Shuttle program leaves a gap in space exploration that has yet to be spanned, or rather, is in the process of being spanned. As the space program turns its focus to deep space exploration, NASA is working with commercial companies to develop launch vehicles to continue supplying the International Space Station. Until then, U.S. astronauts will need to hitch a ride with the Russians.
Meanwhile, Congress and President Obama continue discussions and debate (wrangling) about raising the debt limit as an August 2 deadline is fast-approaching. An ongoing philosophical divide is wearing thin with many Americans and eroding consumer and investor confidence. Yes, we want good fiscal management, but cuts in government spending actually do have trickle-down effects, often negative, including job losses. Witness again the space program. With the end of the Shuttle program, an estimated 9,000 workers are becoming jobless just in Florida. And no, we would prefer not to increase taxes, but we might need to admit it that it’s an unpleasant necessity. If we are going to pay our bills, we need the money to do it.
Outside of maintaining the nation’s AAA credit rating, the primary focus of Congress and the Administration should be job creation and further strengthening the economy. “We still have a long way to go,” President Obama noted. “The economy as a whole just isn’t producing nearly enough jobs for everybody who’s looking.” Thousands of long-term unemployed workers can vouch for that.
And then there’s media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom that led to closure of the News of the World and derailed Murdoch’s anticipated takeover of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). The after-effects of the unethical and illegal information-gathering methods used by News personnel are spreading through the Murdoch empire. That empire, by the way, includes approximately 150 publications in Australia, The Sun and The Sunday Times in the United Kingdom, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and other U.S. publications, 20th Century Fox film and television studios, Fox Broadcasting Company, and on, and on.
The scandal has also spread to British government offices, and has already dealt a blow to the paper industry. One source estimates closure of News of the World, which had a circulation of about 2.7 million copies each Sunday, will reduce newsprint demand by 49,000 metric tons/year. Further aftershocks are likely.