I love science of any kind. So it is with a bit of sadness that I watch tributes to the Space Shuttle program as it winds down.
What makes me really pause though is that in 30 years, I have never gone to a launch, landing, or even gone outside to search the night sky for the fast-moving bright spot as its orbit took the shuttle within my view.
Now that opportunity has passed, and I feel just a little like I haven’t given the respect due to the brave astronauts, brilliant engineers, and all the skilled technical people that made the shuttle program possible, and kept it going all these years.
All these people have dedicated themselves, and in some cases, their lives, to the science of exploration and space, and I couldn’t even manage to take a day or two, and a small trip, to get to a launch.
Yet, I have been to JPL, where such unmanned missions as the Mars rovers and Gemini and Cassini are controlled and commanded. That was a trip that I really enjoyed, by the way. Talk about a mental boost: try spending two days around a bunch of rocket scientists!
The Shuttle program has been a constant throughout my life: it began when I was in grade school, the Challenger accident happened when I was in high school, and the Columbia accident occurred after I was well on my own as an adult. In the meantime, the Shuttle has helped launch (and repair) an incredible telescope, assemble a space station, and countless other less-publicized missions.
I remember previous space stations Mir, and just barely remember SkyLab. While I am too young to know the excitement of the Apollo program and travel to the moon, I kind of understand that those space programs of their day were a real point of national pride.
Now we have come full circle, with no space launch capability to be proud of for the next few years, and a real likelihood that the next space vehicle to leave US soil will not be a “US” ship, but one from a private company.
Don’t get me wrong- I will be very proud of an American company that privately makes it into space. But it just isn’t the same as if I could call it “our country’s ship.”
So take a moment to reflect on what the US space program, and the Shuttle program, have meant in your life. Let’s do what we can to keep space on the national conscience and not let the efforts, risks, and sacrifices of the US space program slip away into the footnotes of the history books.