Thursday, July 21, 2011

The End of the Shuttle Program

"We should stop wasting money on manned space flight."

As a child of the 70's, the Space Shuttle was the only space craft I saw in operation.  The movie "Space Camp" spawned my short lived 'wanting to be an astronaut' fantasy, wherein a group of camp kids get a free ride into space when they are aboard, when the Shuttle accidentally launches.  The notion of someday looking down upon the Earth from heaven was and still is very appealing to me.

Within a short period of that I witnessed the Shuttle Challenger explode shortly after launch.  Even at the age of 10, I understood that the Shuttle's launch was performed in stages. So when there was an explosion well before the solid rocket boosters were set to detach, I knew something was seriously wrong.  While there were reports that some cheered unknowingly at the explosion, I feared the worst. The reality of how dangerous space travel truly is was made plainly clear, as the reporter described the scene as a "...major malfunction."

Less than 20 years later, I would witness another Shuttle come apart during re-entry, as Columbia's heat shield failed to protect the astronauts from the temperatures closing in on 3000 degrees.  As with the Challenger, I knew immediately that all those aboard had perished.  Space flight is dangerous, as humans have suffered losses in both flight operations and training procedures.  The Shuttle was intended to ferry men back and forth into orbit, like our own space taxi, but re-ready procedures proved both lengthy and costly.

Shuttle Atlantis just touched down, for it's last official mission, bringing an end to the program.  Shuttles Discovery and Endeavor had already been decommissioned and the hangared strip down process had begun.  While Shuttle Enterprise never made it into space, it will be displayed as a museum piece soon.  With these ends, so follows our immediate progress into the great unknown.  There was a time when man sought to expand his frontiers, with an unbridled enthusiasm.  Where has that spirit gone?

Have we lost the notion of how important it is to make our world bigger, our technology more capable, and our reach further?  We will now rely on the Russians for space-service.  If it was a marathon, I guess the Russians finally won the space race.  It is no wonder, we can't even adopt the advance green technologies or solar panel or wind turbines.  We have stopped leading the world, in anything but military endeavors.

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