Last swipes at the space program.

Last swipes at the space program.

Last swipes at the space program.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 4 2003 6:05 PM

American Flameout

The space shuttle Columbia is receding from international headlines, but some papers took a few last swipes at the U.S. space program.

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The tabloid Sun chastised NASA for sending astronauts on the "ancient" Columbia: "It was a worn-out death trap, a disaster just waiting to happen. … If the Americans can't afford new spacecraft, they must ground their dreams." The Financial Times counseled the United States to debate "the merits of further expenditure on manned space flight" and concluded, "For now … the money that a serious space exploration programme would cost could be better spent on challenges closer to home—such as hunger, disease and the environmental destruction of the planet we currently inhabit."

Britain's Guardian, no friend of George W. Bush, applauded the president's Saturday speech. It said: "America has the power to divide the world. But it also has the power to unite it." In his address to the nation, "For once, Mr Bush spoke for the world." The editorial applauded the diverse crew—"a poignant and idealistic mix of talents, genders, races, religions and nationalities"—and declared, "Their fragile and dangerous work must be allowed to learn from this setback, and must go on."

The Independent saw welcome signs of vulnerability in the U.S. response to the disaster. The loss of the Columbia "is likely to mark a further stage in coming to terms with the limits of human endeavour. … If that contributes to a subtle adjustment to the American psyche, it is likely to be for the better. There can be no harm, in the present world situation, in the US coming to terms with the idea of limits to its power." The Age of Melbourne drew an entirely different conclusion. Its editorial said space exploration "is one of the best examples of American extroversion, and it is to be hoped that this newest disaster will not be enough to prompt calls by many Americans for a retreat into isolationism. The world needs an engaged America."

Spooky: A columnist in Toronto's Globe and Mail noted connections between the fallen space shuttle and the seven Canadian teenagers from Calgary's Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, known as STS, who died in a British Columbia avalanche Saturday. "[B]y some weird coincidence, the call letters on the side of Columbia were STS 107. Even if one doesn't believe in numerology or mysticism, there is no escaping the connection of STS, while the number shows an eerie parallel to the students who were on the trip: 17 students, 10 survived and seven did not."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.