In the battle of environmentalists against business that began years ago in the United States, one of its latest victims is Birmingham, Alabama, coal mine owner Ronnie Bryant.

During a recent public hearing in Birmingham — called to consider whether to place a coal mine near a river that serves as a source of drinking water for parts of the Birmingham metro area — Bryant heard accusations by an overflowing crowd that businesses in the area were polluting the drinking water and causing cancer.

With the landing last week of America’s last space shuttle, the nation stands at a critical point in the history of space exploration. For some, the last flight of Atlantis — a mission officially designated as STS-135, was “bittersweet,” as one writer termed it. The landing of Atlantis may presage a difficult era in the “Space Age,” or it may herald the beginning of the end of the government’s virtual monopoly on mankind’s exploration of the heavens.

In recent decades such a large portion of scientific research has been funded by governments, either directly or through government-funded universities, that most people can scarcely imagine a world in which research is paid for solely by the private sector. Today, however, researchers are feeling the pinch of government cutbacks and, according to the New York Times, are turning to the Internet to raise funds for their research — a task that, while daunting, also holds rewards for both researchers and donors.

As the space shuttle Atlantis orbits the earth on its final flight, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is attempting to chart a new course for a federal agency that has often given the impression of being “lost in space.”

As the last flight of NASA’s space shuttle began with a photogenic launch this morning, the future of manned space flight is far from certain. From the first shuttle mission — designated STS-1 — in April 1981, when astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen flew the Columbia, through today’s launch of Atlantis for STS-135, the shuttle program has been the focus of much of the praise and criticism in public analysis of America’s space program. Now, as Atlantis begins its twelve-day mission, the debate about the future of human space flight centers on the role of public and private involvement in such endeavors.