William Safire: In space, we're getting along just fine

William Safire comments on the US successes in space. Interesting views i guess.

In the 20th century, stung by the triumph of the Soviet Union in putting the Sputnik into orbit, President John F. Kennedy said America had “tossed its cap over the wall of space” to be first to land a man on the moon. The United States won that competition with communism in space, an augury to America’s later victories in ideology and political power.

Now Americans are stunned by their new successes in space. With the year 2004 still in its diaper, a spacecraft aptly named Stardust, launched five years ago, scooped up a shovelful of dust from the nucleus of the comet Wild 2 a quarter of a billion miles away. If it brings back even a thimbleful of these first materials from deep space two years from now, we may learn if comet dust contains the organic molecules necessary for life – which would be evidence that comets are universal messengers of life-producing chemicals.

Then, a few days later, came America’s robotic visitation of the probe named Spirit to Mars. We have been there before with a small probe but suffered two failures five years ago. Now our $820 million investment paid off as we placed a roving robot the size of a golf cart splat in the middle of a Connecticut-size crater that NASA calls Sleepy Hollow.