For a nation that prides itself on “firsts,” America's 2011 is shaping up pretty poorly. Two American firsts will experience their lasts this year: the space shuttles, the first and only reusable space vehicles of their kind, will retire this week, and Fermilab’s Tevatron--once the world’s most powerful particle collider--will cease smashing in September. While all good things must come to an end, neither of these world-beating technologies has a homegrown successor to pick up where its predecessor left off. With regularity, the “firsts” are happening elsewhere these days.
For those of us who grew up on Big Science--where big projects regularly hit big milestones that were a big deal--these are strange days. I want to see Americans build the first fusion reactor. Actually, I want to see American robots build it, and I want them do it on the moon.