As the final shuttle flight unfolds over the next few hours or, given the weather, the next few days, politicians, pundits, and former astronauts will laud the success of the shuttle program.
It is all hogwash.
As noted in a Boston Globe editorial, by any metric more tangible than the warm and fuzzies, the space shuttle has been a pretty typical government program…with a body count:
For all the heartfelt sentiment accompanying the end of the program, the sad reality is the space shuttle’s demise was long overdue. Its goal of providing inexpensive, fast, and reliable access to space for government and commercial cargoes never materialized. Shuttle maintenance and refurbishment were too expensive, the delays between flights too long, and the simplicity of a single reusable spacecraft was belied by the need for a new external fuel tank for each flight. The total cost of the program, estimated at about $200 billion, worked out to well over $1 billion per mission. The value of scientific research from experiments on the flight was debatable. And then, of course, there were the tragedies of Challenger and Columbia.