Life as an Extreme Sport

The End of the Shuttle Era

I took a nap rather than actually sleep through the night, in order to watch STS-135 (Atlantis) land for the final time. For the entire space shuttle program’s final time.

Atlantis Landing
The last shuttle landing, via NASA TV

The shuttle program is 33 years old. I grew up watching the shuttles, from the Enterprise OV tests to Challenger and Columbia and all the launches and successes between. And now this, the bittersweet end. A program that started because JFK realized the importance of manned exploration of the world beyond ours, fueled by a space race against those evil commie Russians, now ends with American reliance on the Russians to get to the ISS at all.

There might be a modicum of irony in that.

Yes, the shuttle program is expensive – but it’s the kind of expensive I want my tax dollars going to. It’s the kind of expensive that brings back miraculous and amazing technology, research, and discovery. So much of the world around us has come from NASA – yes, more than just Tang. Whether you realize it or not, the space shuttle program has touched your life, immediately and directly.

And now it’s gone.

Sure, there’s talk of privatization, but that’s still several years off at the very least and optimistic. And NASA says that they will shift their focus to manned space exploration, to Mars and beyond. And of course, Voyager and Voyager2 are still out there, still threatening to become V’ger, and there are the Mars rovers and the list of what NASA is doing is still impressively long.

But it’s not the same, and I have my doubts about some of these things ever happening, like a manned voyage to Mars. Right now, our country doesn’t value science, exploration, or discovery. We have managed to lose that adventurous spirit that defined everyone who came to America looking not just for something more and something better, but for the answer to the simple question: what’s beyond that horizon?

Religion and politics have split us asunder in the last twenty years, and a casualty of that war is our national curiousity, our pride in scientific advancement pushed by brilliant American minds, and now, our shuttle – and space – program.