It was a dark day when in 1993, the sitting Congress cancelled the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), which was set to be built just outside of Dallas, Texas the lone star state. As when it was canceled, the development was then well underway and the project was moving forward in full force with great expectations for success. It’s also worth noting that the Super Collider was massive in not only size but also the expected energy levels which it would produce having far surpassed the current operational levels of the Large Hadron Collider (housed in CERN today). So here is the question as what do you do if you’re a scientist or engineer working on the cancelled project?
Now we fast forward to the current day with the cancellation of the shuttle program, where a core group of over 17,000 engineers and staff will be reduced down to a mere shadow of its once glory at only 7,000 persons. As it’s clear this loss of 10,000 staff most of which are highly trained is a tremendous loss of both high talent as well as high experience. As it will be here that the aeronautics’ community will have an extreme amount of difficulty trying to replace this precious resource of human talent when needed again.
As with everything, this isn’t the first time this has happened either, as in the 1920s and 1930s in England there was a decline of science and technology too. In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, when the British pioneered such cutting edge technologies of the time such as steam power, electricity, chemicals, and aeronautics. It however lost its edge fairly quickly in the dawn of the 20th century only to be surpassed by Germany.
While yes, times are tough meaning the critics are quick to jump to the fact that science must be downsized too. However as mentioned before, not all cuts are equal as downsizing science can be compared to “eating your own seed corn“. As once it’s gone, there will be nothing to plant in the spring. Today as politicians spend the bulk of their time arguing how to reduce the pie by devising all kinds of different ways to slice it up trimming the waistlines of budgets they need to keep something in mind.
As many miss the fact that in some cases what we really need is a bigger pie in given areas, and the only way to get a “bigger pie” is from science itself. One thing here is true as history has proven that is science is in fact the engine of prosperity for our nation or any nation for that matter.
As the space shuttle is only one program of many as we are slowly losing our edge in different areas of technology. Meaning the US will find it difficult to generate the new technologies which we need to provide us our bigger pie, while other countries grab our baton and leave us behind …