With the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis on July 21st 2011, the United States Space Shuttle program ended.
If you could go back in time and ask someone on the night when Neal Armstrong exited the lunar module and made his giant leap into history, where the United States space program would be forty two years later, I doubt they would say “no longer flying space missions”.
That’s a bit hyperbolic as NASA is merely ending the Space Shuttle program. There will still be a NASA, there will still be missions. There are still rovers on Mars, and the first inter-planetary network between Mars and Earth (I bet it’s better than AT&T service) – but the space shuttle program is officially over.
Have you ever seen the movie Memento? It’s basically a story told backwards. Written and Directed by Chris Nolan before he was Chris Nolan. It’s about as confusing as Inception – so if you were completely lost during Inception, don’t bother.
Anyway, NASA seems to be going backwards.
We landed on the moon 42 years ago.
We now celebrate a shuttle flight that doesn’t include massive amounts of tiles breaking off and damaging heat shields.
We celebrate getting into orbit and docking with a space station - that with no more space shuttle flights doesn’t seem like a very good idea to me at this point.
During the 1960’s, we went from not having a clue about rocketing into orbit, let alone how to get to the moon and ya know get back; to now celebrating Facebook and Twitter as signs of innovation.
Not that I have any problems with Facebook or Twitter, but if that’s a sign of American innovation, I want my money back.
A criticism I’ve often heard about the space shuttle program is how much money it costs, how much damage each flight does to the ozone layer, and ya know how much money it costs.
“Why are we building a space station when there are starving children in the world.” Pretty sure people were starving long before manned space flight. As if discontinuing NASA would suddenly feed the hungry, but I digress.
The entire space shuttle program cost tax payers about $196 billion dollars.
The 2008 bailout of AIG alone cost $180 billion.
Chew on that.
What we often fail to grasp is how much has been discovered or invented as a byproduct of giving really smart people a boat load of money and having them solve complex problems.
It’s amazing what can be discovered while you’re trying to solve something else. Penicillin, for instance, was discovered by accident.
Invisible braces, scratch resistant lenses, water filters – all thanks to the engineers at NASA working on a re-usable vehicle to get people to and from space.
I can’t think of a better symbol which represents the innovative spirit and can do mentality of not only Americans, but of mankind itself, than a 4.5 million pound rocket saying eff-you to the confines of gravity and ripping free from the shackles of its launching pad and reaching toward the heavens to slip the surly bounds of earth and touch the face of God.
Sadly we’ll never get that image again.
Here’s to hoping we get a better one.