Final Shuttle Flight – the End of an Era

I was a twelve-year-old boy when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969. I was awed. An entire generation of children around the world were awed. Many of the U.S. astronauts are now younger than I am and they may have been too young to be there to watch that momentous step. For them, it’s always been that way. Humans have always traveled in space.

When I watched those moon landings between 1969 and 1973, I knew I witnessed the first series of trips to the moon. I had no idea I was witnessing the last ones, too. We never went back to the moon for the forty-some years that followed. I, very likely, in my lifetime, will not see another man walk on the moon, let alone Mars. This would have been inconceivable to that twelve-year-old boy in 1969.

Now the last shuttle has lifted off. The shuttle program has been retired. This decision was made by the Bush administration after the Columbia disaster. The Constellation program was then conceived and started to replace the shuttle and return a man to the moon by 2020. This program was defunded by Obama’s 2011 budget.

For the first time in 50 years, America has no manned space vehicle. Today we need to buy launch capability from Russia, the only nation that has a viable human space launch vehicle. Mind you, of 1960 design. It’s like riding a horse and buggy. Give it another 10 years, and China will be on only nation with a cost-effective space program. For the foreseeable future there will be no American manned launches into space. 

Neil Armstrong addressed a letter to President Obama in which he voiced his concern:

“For the United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capabilities to go beyond Earth orbit and with no human exploration capabilities to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate state.”

Granted, this opens up the competitive market place for private firms to explore space travel. With NASA no longer competing and taking all the lucrative business, there is now incentive for private investment and entrepreneurship. Perhaps, in his total lack of vision and shortsighted fiscal planning, Obama has actually opened up a new frontier, one that will bring costs of space travel down, open it up to more than a few elite technologists and scientists, and spur humanity on to greater exploration?

If that happens, it won’t be Obama that should get credit. Kennedy had the vision when he said that we would travel to the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard. Obama showed no vision here, no leadership and no sense of destiny. Obama is simply a housekeeper.

The worldwide military budget 2.1 trillion / year and the space budget is 38 billion.

We are sending our children a message of what is important to us by what we are spending our money on, perhaps not as a nation, but as a world.

We are taking the vision away for a generation of young Americans who cannot watch monumental and historic steps like that of Neil Armstrong so many years ago.

Most of the Apollo astronauts are now over 80 years old. They are still here today to tell their stories, but soon there will be no more humans alive who have walked on another world, who have actual memories of looking at the earth as a pale blue pebble floating in a black sky.

2 thoughts on “Final Shuttle Flight – the End of an Era

  1. Eric Petrie

    Your pie-chart is a killer statistic. How sad that the vision of our politicians is so narrow. But the politicians reflect the voting public, and America is not what it was post-WWII, for good and ill. I would not blame Obama so much as the entire political atmosphere, which has lost any unity on publicly funded space exploration. The GOP is so loud about down-sizing government and relying on corporate profiteers that the options seem pretty limited.

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