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An era winding down

I and 120,000 other people watched online as the Discovery landed for the last time today.

The shuttle program is the space program I grew up with, for better and worse. I was ten when the Columbia went up for the first time in April 1981. I sat in math class and watched the Challenger explode on the television, over and over and over. I pored over the Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual and dreamed of going up myself.

I never expected the shuttle program to last so long, that we wouldn’t have moved on to better things in the thirty years since that first launch. Shuttle launches became almost routine, something that happened every now and then, until the Columbia reminded us that heading into space is never routine, never entirely safe.

Now Discovery is down for good. Endeavour is scheduled to launch for the last time in April, and Atlantis will make her last flight in June, the 135th shuttle flight.

With the end of the shuttle program, and the cancellation of the Constellation program last year, the US is without a manned space program: a stunning lack of vision. We can watch video from the shuttle cockpit real-time as it lands, but we cannot send people into orbit, let alone to the Moon or Mars. What are the kids now going to watch in awe? What great scientific enterprise will unite the country? What will we cheer, and mourn?

Forget about the flying cars. Where’s my space program?

5 Comments

  1. Dan Arthur says:

    We shouldn’t have flying cars anyway. There could be 9/11/01-style collisions all over the place, intentional and otherwise.

    I grew up with Apollo. In fact, the very earliest memory I have that I can date is watching the Apollo 11 moon landing and then Armstrong’s 1st steps. Other than that, I’m with you. It’s disheartening that so much technology trickled down to the consumer from the Apollo program, but the shuttle program was barely ever even state of the art. And now where are we? Relying on an even older program (Soyuz) than the shuttle to get to and from the ISS. We should already have semi-permanent lunar structures set up for Mars testing, damn it.

  2. Sarah says:

    No, I really don’t want flying cars either! Although a robochauffeur would be fabulous.

    I just missed the moon landing. The shuttle was the first program I was really aware of. My first trip to Canaveral was around the time of the first shuttle launch, I think. I remember looking at all the pictures, and the video, and the rockets on display, but to a ten-year-old all that was history, and the shuttle was mine.

  3. neurondoc says:

    I did watch the 1st moon landing (there are pictures to prove it, but I don’t remember it (I was just shy of 3 yrs old). I, too, remember the first launch of Columbia and the explosion of Challenger. I even got to see a shuttle launch live (a night launch, too!) from the NASA VIP seats, because a good friend works at NASA. It never became routine for me. Sadly, my 8 year-old daughter (upon watching the most recent orbiter launch) said “I’m bored. Can I go downstairs and play now?”

    While I do feel nostalgic about the soon-to-be-ending Shuttle program, I feel robbed that we never got anything more or better.

    Flying cars will certainly provide for lots more work for me. Imagine the how the number of people with MVA (motor vehicle accident) – related brain injury will skyrocket…

  4. Dan Arthur says:

    I never went to Canaveral until Toni & I did when we were 29 years old (end of January ’95). Saw Discovery go up in a night launch w/ the first woman pilot (Eileen Collins). There and in the associated tours I felt like such a kid. 🙂

  5. Sarah says:

    While I do feel nostalgic about the soon-to-be-ending Shuttle program, I feel robbed that we never got anything more or better.

    That. The space shuttle program was mine — I watched it develop and grow — but it should have been a stepping stone to something better and more efficient. The shuttle never should have been a thirty-year program.

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