Political reaction to the shuttle landing

Yesterday’s landing of the shuttle Discovery, which brought the STS-121 mission to a successful end, prompted some reactions from the President and several members of Congress:

The White House issued a short, succinct statement welcoming home the shuttle crew. “The men and women of NASA have dedicated themselves to putting our space program back on track and implementing our Nation’s vision for human and robotic space exploration. America’s space program is a source of great national pride, and this mission has been another important accomplishment in advancing space science, human space flight, and space exploration.”

House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert issued a similar statement congratulating NASA on a successful mission. “While NASA must continue to be vigilant, the Shuttle is now poised to proceed with completing construction of the International Space Station, servicing the Hubble Space Telescope – should such a mission be deemed safe by Administrator Griffin – and moving forward with the implementation of the Agency’s multiple missions.”

The landing even warranted congratulations from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who noted that “The American entrepreneurial spirit of innovation is alive and well.” This might be the first time “entrepreneurial” and “innovation” have been used with respect to the shuttle for quite some time.

Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL), in a statement released to the Orlando Sentinel, also praised the mission, but raised the specter of falling behind Russia and China in space if the nation doesn’t continue manned spaceflight after the shuttle is retired. Referring to his trip to China early this year, he said, “I saw their modern facilities, a young, educated, and inspired workforce, and a dedicated effort to land Chinese on the moon in less than 20 years. Unless America stays the course, the Chinese flag will greet our astronauts when they return to the moon in the next decade.” I have a bit of a problem parsing this statement, since “staying the course” would have astronauts returning to the moon in the next decade (late next decade, to be exact), while China itself is extremely unlikely to send humans to the Moon before this date. (Feeney himself, talking about his trip to China earlier this year, said he didn’t expect a space race to develop between the US China.)

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