In a few days, a sleek-winged ship will drop out of the sky after spending nearly two weeks in space. It will glide to a runway — most likely in Florida.

And an era of space travel will come to an end as the space shuttle Atlantis coasts to a stop.

This must not signal the end of the U.S. space faring mission.

Thousands of dedicated NASA employees based in Florida, Alabama and, yes, in Texas, are going to lose their jobs eventually as the government pulls the shades down on the space program as we’ve come to know it.

But what’s next?

President Barack Obama hasn’t set a clear goal for Americans to achieve. Looking back a half-century, another young president — John F. Kennedy — declared it to be the U.S. mission to “put a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth.”

We accomplished that mission in the face of intense competition from the Soviet Union, which had been the first to launch a satellite, the first to put humans into space and was threatening this nation’s technical superiority.

“The United States cannot afford to abdicate its leadership role in space,” said U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, “when our innovation and accomplishments have brought so much to the American economy, national security and the quality of life for all mankind.”

The International Space Station will keep orbiting the planet. The Russians will provide launch vehicles to take astronauts to the ISS, with Americans hitching a ride from time to time.

But the end of the shuttle program must not signal the end of our journey into space.

— Amarillo Globe-News,

Texas, July 13

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