At 5:56 AM this morning I watched the Atlantis touch down for the final time. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I grew up with the space program. I was a callow 16 year old trudging through the mountains of North Carolina with Outward Bound when our team leader told us that we had landed on the moon. I remember, like yesterday, driving down the highway when the shuttle exploded as it climbed toward orbit. I remember the men cavorting on the surface of the moon, swinging golf clubs, driving recklessly in their lunar rovers, and bobbing over the dusty surface while singing and conducting their scientific experiments.
And, now, no more. No trips to low earth orbit, no plans to revisit the moon or make an attempt to get to Mars. We have taken our eyes away from the stars, with all of the attendant hopes and dreams, to stare at the mundane. In focusing on the near, we have lost our vision.
A sad, sad day.
Bloggers and media types have taken to the internet today to praise the end of the shuttle program, noting that other space strivers like the Russians and Chinese shelved their shuttle designs due to the extreme cost and limited utility of the model. They observe that it is appropriate that private enterprise steps into the breach, and that efficiency and entrepeneurial spirit will provide the next burst of activity. Having had some time to reflect on that position, I can’t disagree.
So, come on Bert Rutan, et al! Let’s go to Mars and mine the rare minerals and make a huge profit!