The shuttle will also launch a cloud of tiny satellites - they're about the size of a nickel - that are the prototypes for nano-satellites that may one day drift with the solar wind. These will be placed on the outside of the space station for easy retrieval. Through these and other experiments, it's clear that manned spaceflight is critical for the groundbreaking research we need to advance the growth of technology.
But we're about to call it quits on research like this. Endeavour is the shuttle program's penultimate flight. When the final shuttle lands this summer, the program ends, and with it manned spaceflight by the U.S. ends. We are turning our backs on space. We are calling it quits.
I realize that writing about space in a blog aimed at IT may appear strange, but remember, many of the technological advances we depend on in information technology got their start in the space program. Scientific research sponsored by NASA and a wide variety of aerospace contractors supporting NASA was a primary driver of innovation. It's hard to imagine where we'd be today without it.
The problem is that manned spaceflight is hard. Sometimes it's dangerous. And because it's hard and dangerous, we're giving up. We're letting others take the lead in the discoveries, the technology advances and the technology leadership. No longer will the U.S. be the home of innovation and invention. Instead that will move to the Europeans, India and China. As they move on to the Moon and perhaps to Mars, we'll focus on making a better movie player.
Unfortunately, when the spirit of innovation leaves the U.S. so will the motivation for people to study things like engineering and physics and even computer science. Your employee pool will effectively vanish. Without the excitement and commitment to do things that are hard, we'll turn to things that are easy and self-satisfying.
I should note that being self-satisfied doesn't do much for leadership, innovation or even just trying to make your data center work better. Instead, it simply leads inexorably downward. As far as the history of science and technology is concerned, this is the year we go from being leaders to being losers.