The American space program is one of the most popular of all government activities. Even now, years after the moon walks and long after the drama has gone out of space flight, the sights and sounds of a shuttle launch still stir the emotions. To be there in person is to see controlled propulsion unequaled on Earth. The ground shakes, windows rattle, the air is split by cascading waves of sound. The blinding intensity of the flame that spews from the rocket as it lifts from the pad amid smoke and steam is unimaginable. Television never captures it.
But the space program is more than just spectacle. The exploration of space is the product of the great inventive genius and industrial might that have given the United States the most plentiful economy and the most diverse society that the world has ever known. We stand on the edge of exploring the universe and using it as we have used the Earth--for the well-being and betterment of large numbers of people.
We are also on the verge of expanding to outer space the wars that have plagued civilization on Earth for millennia. The current shuttle mission, which is classified behind a curtain of military secrecy, is a reminder of the two-pronged thrust of this country's interest in space. Up until now the civilian uses have captured most of the headlines, and the military uses have stayed in the wings. But the military has always viewed space as the ultimate high ground, either for spying (the mission of the satellite now being launched) or for weapons themselves--the dream of many strategists. Despite its endorsement of the idea of a space station, the current Administration unfortunately seems more interested in exploitingspace as a military resource than as a civilian one.