A Telling Sign of American Decline

Does the cancellation of NASA's programs suggest that the United States is no longer a serious country?

Kinsley writes:

...If you think your country is in danger, how is it unpatriotic to say so?

Mike suggests he believes that the United States is not the greatest country in the history of the world; I disagree, for manifold reasons I will detail if anyone cares. But I think he is right to argue that telling ourselves we are great, when we are demonstrably not, is no favor to the idea of American exceptionalism. I worry, like many people, that America is no longer a serious country; serious about its international responsibilities, serious about grappling with entitlements, serious about the need to invest in science and innovation and energy and, most symbolically, in space exploration. For proof of the trouble we are in, please read Paul Barrett's tremendously important report in Bloomberg Businessweek on the uncertain future of NASA. Space science and exploration is an imperative for any great nation, but it seems as if the United States government is steadily and self-destructively giving up on space. Please read the whole thing. Here's one dispiriting excerpt:

In February, the Obama Administration abruptly canceled an over-budget program called Constellation that was supposed to take Americans back to the moon for the first time since 1972--and then on to Mars. For 30 years, NASA has flown the Shuttle, built and maintained the International Space Station, and overseen unmanned scientific probes. But no one seems certain where Americans should go next in space. Implicitly acknowledging NASA's lack of direction, the White House has instructed the agency to take a deep breath, marshal resources, and chart a new course. Routine trips to what is known as low earth orbit--the Space Shuttle's traditional responsibility--are supposed to be outsourced to private industry. Trying to protect jobs and existing contracts, Congress has slowed the Obama reform initiative without entirely stopping it. That leaves NASA trapped in what James E. Ball, an agency program manager in Florida, calls "a period of sustained ambiguity." This much is clear: The Shuttle will fly for the last time next year, and NASA has no new manned government rockets ready to go anytime soon. For five years, or maybe more, any American astronaut heading to the heavens will have to get there by renting a seat in a Russian Soyuz capsule or one of the several corporate-owned spacecraft now in development.