Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Space--the Final Frontier, Ends

Sadly, as Chris and I were discussing over dinner the other evening, we are witnessing the end of an era--U.S. manned space flight.


The shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch on Wednesday, November 3rd, on a mission to the International Space Station and then be retired after its return to Earth. The other shuttles will be retired next year and by the end of 2011, the U.S. will no longer have the capability to launch humans into space. Scary enough--only the Russians and the Chinese will be capable of launching people into space.



I was one of those kids who grew up watching the heroes of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions blaze trails into space and onto the moon.


There is no follow-on program. The program to develop the next generation manned space launch vehicle and capsule has been canceled.


Space was a source of national pride and technological achievement. Remember the space race with the Soviets--who could put the first man on the moon? And we won!


Space was a place where only the best of the best could fly and survive to return for another mission.


I fully believed that one day I would lead the first manned mission to Mars--and looking back, it seems we have lost our desire for exploration.


Here is a fact from the Smithsonian website: Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, still holds the distinction of being the last man to walk on the Moon, as no humans have visited the Moon since December 14, 1972.


It has been almost 38 years since mankind stepped foot on the Moon. We could not even do it today, we do not have the heavy space-launch capability anymore.


With the retirement of the shuttle fleet next year--little by little the United States is losing its vision. As a nation we are losing the drive and enthusiasm which set us apart from the other nations of the world.


I remember the phrase: "The difficult done immediately, the impossible takes a bit longer."


I know there are arguments about whether the space program is a waste of money--but really, the money pit of social programs that the money is being reinvested into shows no return on investment at all. At least space pushes the boundaries of technology and gives us products and things which otherwise might not exist.
As a nation, we used to push the frontier.


But no longer. We are mired in a budget catastrophe of our own doing that has our sights turned inwards and not seeing what is happening around us.


We have lost, it seems, our mojo.


So the tombstone for U.S. manned space may ultimately read:


US Manned Space Program
1961-2011,
For 50 years we led where others feared to go
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