If it's possible to make a non-political speech at a national political convention my vote goes to Eileen Collins, one of NASA's most famous still-living astronauts who was the first woman to hold the most elite job in a most elite profession -- shuttle pilot and commander.
Collins spoke last night at the Republican National Convention and managed to never say the name of presidential nominee Donald Trump, nor offer an endorsement.
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She even delivered a glancing blow at the last Republican to hold the highest office in the country, George W. Bush, who made the tough but inevitable call to end the shuttle program, leaving the United States dependent on Russia to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station.
After 30 years, two fatal accidents and annual operating costs of about $5 billion, the decision to retire the space shuttles was not driven by politics, but even if Bush's successor, President Barack Obama, had wanted to reverse the decision, it was too late. Manufacturing of fuel tanks and other essential items was already shut down.
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What the Obama Administration did do was cancel Bush's moon exploration initiative, known as Constellation, on the grounds that it was behind schedule and over-budget, and replacing it with a Mars-via-an-asteroid technology development program that doesn't preclude lunar missions and also did not end multibillion development programs to build the deep-space Orion capsule and a heavy-lift rocket. Still unfunded are crew habitation and descent modules.
Ending Constellation was costly, and likely slowed U.S. initiatives to resume human space exploration.
Collins' plea last night, delivered on the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, was for the United States to step up its space game.
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"Countries that are strong are countries that explore, invent and discover to remain resilient in a changing world," Collins said. "Nations that lead on the frontier, lead in the world."
"We need that leadership that will make America's space program first again. And we need leadership that will make America great again," she said.
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