Miss Pattern and I just booked our hotel room in Flordia for Sept 15/16…. We’ve talked a lot about making this trip, and now it’s gonna happen. You see, the Space Shuttle fleet is being retired by NASA this year, and the 16th of Sept is the final launch day scheduled. I’m super excited to get to see the final shuttle launch, as I’e seen 2 shuttle launches live when I was a kid. Though the feeling is a little bittersweet….
Prez. Obama has cut funding to NASA due to financial woes (understandable)… but this means that the Constellation program is being scrapped. The Orion capsule was to be the next generation of manned space craft as part of this program sort of like a giant Apollo capsule, the Orion (and it’s giant Ares rockets) were to ferry larger crews to orbit, to the international space station, and then onto the moon again. But all that is done.
Instead, for the foreseeable future, American Astronauts will be hitching rides on the Soviet Soyuz capsules to the space station. And Obama seems to be lending his verbal support to priate sector “space” travel such as Virgin Galactic.
All of this is very bittersweet for me. In my lifetime “manned space exploration” has been nothing more than flying around the Earth or cargo ferrying to the space station, and while I understand that this work is crucial to understanding life in space, I feel let down. When I was a kid I envisioned man not only going back to the moon, but onward to Mars and perhaps other places in our solar system. And now that vision is relegated to the realm of science fiction. One of the central tennants of many sci-fi works is that man belongs in space, man is destined to extend his reach outward to the universe. And I believe that. Otherwise we’re just fish in a bowl. A very large bowl, but a bowl nonetheless.
Some say the future of space exploration is in advanced robotics; that it’s safer, and more hard science can be accomplished. This may be true, but playing it safe isn’t going to help us grow and extend our reach beyond our own planet. Yes space travel is risky, we’ve witnessed many people sacrifice their lives for it. But if you ask any astronaut they’ll say it’s a risk worth taking, and I agree.
So for me, on Sept 16th I’ll be there to send off the last of the shuttle fleet as it roars skyward, but I’ll also be saying goodbye, not just to the era of the space shuttle, but to the dreams of space exploration I had as a child.