Today four human beings, three men and one woman, left the confines of this Earth and traveled into space aboard the Atlantis Space Shuttle, STS-135, the final flight of the shuttle program.
If you've been around the Farm long, you know I'm fascinated by the space program. Do you know what STS stands for? Space Transportation System. The 135 is the mission number. It's the 135th, and final, mission into space for the shuttle program.
And with that I start tearing up again.
I'm afraid that my generation is the last to appreciate the space program. As I wrote in a FB comment earlier today, I fear NASA failed to capture the imagination of the younger generations of dreamers for whom the shuttle program going to the space station is routine, something that's always been done (during their lifetime). They think Transformers 3 had better CG than a shuttle launch (I'd argue THAT to my grave!). When the program began it was more amazing than anything you could see in the movies, but it didn't keep up. What's so special about sending a shuttle to the space station? They do it all the time.
We do it all the time. There is awe in that. The idea that sending people beyond the confines of this planet, beyond our gravity, into outer space is incredible. It's not CG because it's real.
You know what I think spelled the beginning of the end for our space program? International cooperation. Sadly, when space flight and reaching new horizons quit being a competition, America lost interest. If we're not beating somebody in a race, we just get bored with it. We need an enemy, somebody to defeat, a chance to get the best of another nation. Instead we let the world get smaller, we started building a space station together. We shared flights with astronauts from other countries, combining resources to make the most of the opportunity to do something great. And Americans moved to more exciting things.
Well, many Americans anyway. I think those of us who recognize the name Christa McAuliffe, those of us who understood the significance of seeing her walk up to that shuttle wearing a jumpsuit and then sat in shocked silence when she died, we still appreciate the feat that was accomplished today. Those of us who sat in front of the TV and watched the beautiful blue sky waiting for a glimpse of the Space Shuttle Columbia on the horizon, slowly realizing that it wasn't coming home, understand the significance of sending people into space and bringing them home safely. But for too many people that's the only part of space travel that's interesting. If it doesn't blow up, it's not so impressive. Sadly, that's what we've become.
Too many people don't appreciate the awe of LAUNCHING HUMANS INTO SPACE. Nor do most people realize the incredible discoveries NASA has made with unmanned rockets and satellites throughout the galaxy. But NASA got behind. They didn't upgrade, update the technology. They focused on completing the space station and lost track of other possibilities for manned space travel. For 30 years it became routine. Thirty years ago people expected us to have space ships that can leave our galaxy by now, yet we haven't even been back to the moon.
Why haven't we been back to the moon? Is there nothing left to see there? President Obama canceled a plan to return to the moon for a more ambitious plan to go to Mars. Except we can't get there from here with current technology, we have to find a pit stop in between. I suspect without the momentum of other productive manned space flights, the funding won't last to get to Mars. Or anywhere else. We can do so much with unmanned rockets now, why take the risk of sending humans?
Because humans are what make up the space program. Human space travel is what captures the imagination of people. It's not "safe." It's exotic. And incredible. And inspiring. Of all the "not safe" things our country asks it's people to do, space travel is the one with the most positive reward!
I hope Kaycie sees a new and better space program during her lifetime, but so much depends on a political climate that changes with every Congressional election. I suspect the loss of momentum from the shuttle program ending will be the death knell for future manned flights. But I hope I'm wrong.
Godspeed, Atlantis. I pray you come home safely and to a hero's welcome.