Ron Dittemore is great. In the coverage that has followed last Saturday’s fall of the space shuttle Columbia, NASA’s program manager has been on the television morning, noon and night giving out information at briefings. From day one, he has spoken and acted in a way that has made me trust him and listen carefully to him. If I were lost in the middle of the ocean in a vessel taking on water, Ron Dittemore is the guy I’d want there.

Dittemore sat through long press briefings, a scientist saddened by the loss of the shuttle and the astronauts, but he was absolutely still at work. He gave long statements while speaking slowly and clearly. He took many questions from reporters and seemed to answer everything head-on.

If he knew the answer, he would give it. He explained technicalities at length. If he didn’t know the answer, he would give a time when he would. He never spoke down to anyone.

Dittemore had to talk about a machine and a mission so complex that it took a million signatures signing off on details to get it going. Yet, he explained things in a way that anyone could understand. He always treated the reporters and, by extension, anyone watching, as peers.

It’s too bad that the astronauts died. In their saffron space suits, they looked like new millennium monks. But they aren’t heroes. They were doing their jobs, even if the jobs were dangerous.

Dittemore has been doing his job, too. But, he is doing it so well, that he is an inspiration and, to me, a hero.

Last week, as reporters dug deeper, questions have started to come out about whether or not NASA knew a long time ago, years ago, that the aging Columbia was not quite up to the job. Questions are being asked about money. People are being reminded of the American military’s use of the space program — in developing space-based laser weapons and mapping the planet — to further its quest to ride herd over the planet.

Space exploration is in many ways wrong. It takes a huge amount of money, and resources and brains would be better spent on exploring ways to make life on Earth more viable for everyone.

This year, two missions are scheduled to send rovers to Mars for soil identification. The hope is to eventually have colonies of miners there, ripping cobalt, uranium, magnesium and water off the planet. It’s awful enough to be turning one planet — Earth — into a strip mine and toilet, but at least it’s our own food bowl we’re defecating in. It’s terrible to want to go do the same on another planet.

Next, we’ll want to bottle the stars.

Our one little species doesn’t have the right to use up every last cosmic grain of sand it can get its grubby hands on.

Even so, Ron Dittemore is doing a great job in his news briefings. Why can’t politicians speak more like him? The defensiveness, exaggerated outrage and evasiveness in politician-speak is absent from Dittemore’s level-headed, even delivery. Politicians should have a look at how he answers difficult questions, offers information, and how he doesn’t offer cheap excuses.

He is a wonderful model for anyone who has to speak with the media and, therefore, to the rest of us.