You don’t have to be the son of two science teachers (like yours truly) to have an interest in space travel and NASA’s soon to conclude space shuttle program. I clearly remember watching early space shuttle launches on live television at my elementary school, and also recall that semi-frequent liftoffs were front page news (click here for a video showing 30 years of shuttle missions as a single launch). Today, 30+ years since it began, the space shuttle program is front page news again.
Acknowledging up front that I’m barely credible as a source for such statements, the world was a much different place when the first shuttle went into orbit. While Little League, Cub Scouts and my role in the safety patrol (in fact, I was captain of the Waddington Elementary School safety patrol as a 6th grader – you know you’re jealous) were my priorities, bigger things were underway in this world. War was being waged over the Falkland Islands, the U.S. was entering a severe recession, and the recently married Prince William was born. Amid these significant happenings, NASA’s space shuttle was capturing millions of imaginations.
This morning I read that the crew of the Shuttle Atlantis had mixed emotions as they were making final preparations for landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and that’s understandable. Ensuring the organization could focus on destinations further from Earth, NASA decided to turn over “low-orbit space travel” to a commercial entity that will likely have a capsule ready to fly in 2015. In the meantime, travel to and from the International Space Station will be led by other nations, with U.S. astronauts sometimes catching a ride.
To some, the end of this phase of America’s space program is melancholy. But I think today’s landing is cause for celebration! I say hats off to the men and women who have operated the space shuttle program since its start, and kudos on their success! Like the experience of millions of children who sat in a countless number of American classrooms watching shuttle launches and landings, I enjoyed the opportunity to dream of outer space and appreciate the sacrifice of all those at NASA who helped get us there.