This morning, before most of us here in the United States were even awake, the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed, bringing the space shuttle program to an end after thirty years.
It’s the end of an era. A dark day for America.
Why, you ask?
You see, millions of Americans from my generation grew up with the space shuttle program. Challenger. Columbia. Endeavor. Discovery. Atlantis. We were inspired by the brave astronauts who flew these amazing machines. We watched space walks on television with fascination. We witnessed satellites and telescopes launched from the cargo bay, and all kinds of amazing work performed in the weightless void of space. We enthusiastically awaited lessons from the Challenger with Christa McAuliffe… and were utterly devasted to see it explode 73 seconds into flight. We grew up wanting to attend Space Camp. We imagined what it would be like to experience lift-off. We dreamed about one day experiencing the weightlessness of space, and of seeing the earth from orbit high above. It was a part of who we were.
Today, that era… that era where children dreamed of growing up to become astronauts, scientists, and engineers… that era is over. Gone forever.
Don’t get me wrong. I know the program was expensive. I know the ships were getting old. And though I still am amazed by our manned space program and would love to see additional shuttle missions, I’m fine with retiring Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavor.
But coming from a generation whose hearts were captured and whose dreams were fueled by the shuttle program? I can’t help but lament… what will take its place for the children of today and tomorrow?
Sports figures? Politicians? Hollywood? Musicians?
You get my point. There really are no worthy successors we as a nation can truly hold up as examples of the best America has to offer… nothing to capture the hearts and imaginations of the next generation.
Of course… today is a day for reflection and celebration of the past thirty years of the shuttle program. It’s been an amazing program, and has done amazing things for the United States and the world as a whole. We owe a tremendous amount of appreciation to all of the people at NASA who have made this possible.
But it’s also a very dark day as we look to the future.
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