I remember when I was young, I used sit in front of the TV watching reruns of Star Trek with a K-Mart tape recorder to capture all the dialogue. I would give the evil glare to anyone who spoke or coughed. Later, my friends and I would replay those tapes in the back of my Dad’s Dodge van and act out the episodes. I was Mister Spock, my best friend was Captain Kirk; my sister played Lt. Uhura. And whomever sat at the steering wheel was Mr. Sulu. That Dodge van has been around the galaxy quite a few times. I never got a chance to tell Lee Ioccoca about the warp drive I installed in it. Probably would’ve made Chrysler number one in the automobile industry.
Around 1977, George Lucas gave us Star Wars. I saw it 33 times at the theatre. Also around the same time, NASA was introducing the Space Shuttle. By popular demand from a letter writing campaign (one of them, of course, mine) the prototype was named Enterprise.
Enterprise never went into space but she did take the initial landing tests. It was a glorious time. I recall visiting Enterprise when she visited my state and being in awe at what was essentially a bus with wings. I built the models and had them hung from my ceiling. I even met Wernher von Braun (we lived in the same town). Many of my relatives worked for the space industry. I had often wanted to pursue space science but I had this music thing I needed to get out of my system so I toured with a rock band instead.
But I never stopped looking upward. I remember the sickening feeling in my stomach when Challenger exploded after launch. And I lived to see Columbia disintegrate upon re-entry. Very sad days. But such is the price of breaking the bounds of our earthly coil.
Those days are coming to an end. Discovery made her final flight this week. The oldest of the fleet, she served 29 years, 39 missions, 365 days in orbit. Her primary mission was servicing the International Space Station. That mission is about done and so is the Space Shuttle program. Her sister ships Endeavour (piloted by US Representative Gabrielle Giffords‘s husband Cmdr. Mark Kelly) and Atlantis each have one more mission to fly and then…it’s over.
We have no further manned space exploration plans, and that’s a shame. We will drop out of first place in the space race for the first time in half a century. Servicing the ISS will fall to the Russian Space Agency and, likely, private sector space agencies. I suspect Endeavour and Atlantis will be left on standby just in case they’re needed, but this particular bit of American history is in the books.
What will we do now? Many think the space program is obsolete. Been there, done that. Any further exploration would be a waste of taxpayer money. But what about that ten-year-old kid sitting out in the driveway piloting her own starship around the galaxy right now? What does she have to look forward to?
There’s a big red ball of rock out there that we’re eventually going to have to visit and probably occupy someday as we put more strain on our finite resources on this little blue marble we call home. I hope we take the next step and continue to fund the space program so that ten-year-old kid in the driveway will go to college and figure out how to get us to the final frontier.
- Shuttle Endeavour Moves to Launch Pad for Final Mission (space.com)
- Space Shuttle Discovery comes home — and to museum near you (gadling.com)
- “Astronauts on space shuttle get wake-up call from Captain Kirk” and related posts (bautforum.com)
- Space Shuttle Discovery Makes Final Landing (abcnews.go.com)
- Shuttle Endeavour prepares for final launch (cbsnews.com)