Not so long ago I'd have shared that sentiment but having seen British engineering zip back to 1959 (when our fuel system was manufactured) and pick up the threads as though it was yesterday to rebuild the whole lot I now realise that we've not lost any capability at all. We may have retired bits of hardware here and there but if ever we need to get it all working again it can be done and that's certainly heartening. We could fly Concorde again and that 'll do for me.We had a capability, and now we don't.
And that's the best thing that could possibly happen to space exploration in my opinion. NASA is an overweight dinosaur riddled with politics and bureaucracy unlike the guys at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites who quietly sailed through the problems by building not a plane with all the costly hoops to jump through but a 'first stage to launch' with no hoops at all by comparison and can now take people into space for a total cost of about £400m.Commercial companies will now develop the means to get astronauts to and from the ISS, but I can't see NASA having the ability to actually DO anything of any real substance for a lot longer than the 'few years' that gets mentioned. And okay so Virgin Galactic will offer paying punters sub-orbital flights- something NASA achieved in 1961!
It's a simple fact that pretty much every underwater search unit in the UK and many others throughout the world have adopted the techniques we developed during our search for Donald because, as a bunch of crazy enthusiasts we put the sort of energy into it that money couldn't buy and worked out how to do it, and that the world's military reaped a huge windfall when rebreather technology fell into the hands of the sport-diving community because we pushed the envelope and its technology further, faster and more ingeniously than any government would ever have dared though we lost a few pioneers along the way. Carl was working on taking the decompression model he'd scaled from atmospheric pressures to extreme diving depths to the other end of the scale in the vacuum of space with an association with the Russian space programme but he died in a diving accident before realising his dream.
There may not be the same political will these days, as Adrian pointed out, but there's still a tremendous amount of enthusiasm out there - just look at how fast the world of F1 advances such things as materials and aerodynamics - so I for one won't be crying into my beer about the loss of the shuttle or Concorde any time soon, though both sadden me in a sentimental sort of way, because they both represented not the cutting edge but an edge dulled by years of use and if you dig a little deeper there's a whole host of new and exciting things taking shape under our noses.
It does disappoint me though that the big players in the Concorde saga seem to have made no provision to keep an aircraft at least viable as a flightworthy piece of heritage. You'd think that the might of BA, AF and Airbus could have combined to at least keep their options open. What an advert a single flying Concorde would have made... I spotted the GoodYear blimp over Birmingham a few weeks back and almost crashed the car...