As Washington, Wall Street and virtually every other major institution in this country remained engrossed this week in the ongoing debt-ceiling negotiations, another federal feat occurred that received very little fanfare even though it has broad implications for our country.

I’m referring to the landing of NASA’s final mission of the shuttle Atlantis following its last 13-day mission.

That’s right, folks, after yesterday, there will not be another human spaceflight for at least four to five years, according to industry experts.

You see, someone at the White House had the bright idea that the federal government shouldn’t be in the manned exploration of space business anymore, but rather the private sector should be.

I know what you’re thinking — this is Armstrong Williams arguing for government to do something over the private sector? In this instance, I think it’s smart for the feds to remain intimately involved in how we as Americans explore, understand and ultimately dominate the final frontier.

The talk now is for human spaceflight to be run primarily by private-sector interests, yet bankrolled by NASA. Terrific, now the space agency will transition from recruiting and training the best scientists in the world into acting as government regulators.

And therein lies the problem — this is one area that has not been tested and approved. Notwithstanding the fact that this economy is teetering on the brink of another recession, can we really expect private enterprise to step up when, if anything, entrepreneurs and innovators of all stripes are hedging their bets?

And what of the major talent in science and technology NASA loses by shifting to this new role as overseer? Will companies eagerly move to recruit that talent before a major brain drain occurs?

I just fear a move of this magnitude should have been debated and deliberated more by Congress and other experts. Humans are just beginning to understand the marvels of this universe. Many of the answers to future problems, I believe, do not lie on this planet.

Don’t we limit our potential as Americans if we’re forced to hitch rides into space with the Russians or the Chinese? And if the private sector does in fact keep pace with technological advances, will its aims be equally altruistic, or will the next seat to Mars go to the highest bidder, as opposed to the smartest physicist?

Too many questions and not enough answers make the grounding of our human spaceflight program a very dumb move.