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©2011 by Richard Nolle

WOW!JUL 11, 2011 - Asteroid Vesta is bound to be more and more in the news in the days and weeks to come, as NASA's ion-powered Dawn spacecraft orbits the second-largest denizen of the main Asteroid Belt. At a time when space buffs are filled with sorrow (and even rage) over the way NASA has been stabbed in the back by a federal government that can't get its priorities straight, the mission to Vesta is a reminder that space projects come and go. Having grown up within earshot and naked eye range of the great space shots of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, I'm keenly aware that in 500 years the only American remembered by every elementary school kid around the world will be Neil Armstrong. Nothing this country has done in all its history is as central to the human species as space exploration. Losing the Space Shuttle may seem like a death knell for American space-faring, but it's just a transition. We've been through these before: there were periods between Projects Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the Shuttle when Americans couldn't get back into space, sometimes for years. (This interim will likely last longer, admittedly.) Meanwhile, Asteroid Vesta gives us an idea of how robotic reconnaisance is blazing a trail to the worlds our species will someday walk on - if we don't sell out our destiny for a mess of pottage. Yeah, there are people who think the money for space missions would be better spent right here on this planet. Heaven help them - and save humanity from them!

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