The twin sonic booms woke me just before 6 AM today. I quickly turned on the local news to catch the last landing of a space shuttle….the Atlantis slid down through clear skies for a perfect touch-down in the lightening of dawn. I’d observed the lift-off from the distance in Orlando, but I was relegated to watching the tube for the final curtain.
I first visited Cape Canaveral in 1976. That was in the Saturn 5 era, and the plans for the first shuttle were proudly displayed in the visitors center. I have witnessed several lift-offs in the ensuing years. The most dramatic were always the evening and early morning flights. Probably because of the high contrast of all that energy expended against the dark of night, and the easily seen diminishing tracks into space. What a glorious sight. One could not feel anything but overwhelming pride in the accomplishment of our country’s space program and the countless heroes who made it all happen.
What the future holds is at best uncertain. It seems to really come down to money. If we lose our technological edge to other nations, and give up the lead in space exploration, I cannot help but believe it will be a chastened USA. We will not take second place easily. Hopefully, the private sector will continue to make gains in their efforts to perform in a commercial way, what our nation no longer is willing to pay for. But to “boldly go” for profit loses a lot of the meaning for me.