This afternoon, despite some foam problems, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched on its final scheduled flight. The flight had been long delayed due to cracks in the foam and support rods that had taken months to fix for NASA engineers. Two more space shuttle flights are scheduled, one for Endeavor and the final one for Atlantis . After that the Space Shuttle program is done, with no replacement in sight.
It must be bittersweet for NASA, founded on the premise of man’s expansion into space, with such memorable moments as Apollo 9 and 13, has reached the end, for now, of human space flight. There have been some ideas about new rocket designs , but in a climate of belt-tightening with a lack of ambition and vision on a part of our leaders, it seems unlikely that any of those rockets will get off the ground.
As someone who has grown up and spent most of my life in Central Florida, I feel more than a bit bittersweet that the Space Shuttle program is coming to an end. From my childhood I have been a star-gazing, space cadet sort of person, and many times I have gone outside to look up at the sky when a space shuttle is lifting off. I have visited Kennedy Space Center outside of Titusville, and even written on the arcane subject of space colonization (in an essay called “Terra Nullus”).
That said, in the last few years it has become obvious that the Space Shuttle has been nearing the end of its usefulness. And with so many problems and expenses, it just seems as if the United States lacks the will and the ability to devote hundreds of billions of dollars to human space exploration. Perhaps private space travel can be developed to a greater degree–a task which holds more promise than expensive government investments at this time.
At any rate, it seems as if in these inward looking days that a certain sense of vision has been lost. We are no longer expansive or confident, outward looking to explore the frontiers of our physical universe. There is a certain perspective that looks out into the unknown and desires to know it, and that mindset does not appear to be present for many people who are content with what is known, what is routine, what is familiar. Perhaps we are more the product of our times than we would like to be, sometimes. This truly does feel, though, like the end of an era. What it begins is less clear.