“Having fired the imagination of a generation, a ship like no other, it’s place in history secured, the Space Shuttle pulls into port for the last time, it’s voyage… at an end.” These were the words spoken by the commentator as the very last space shuttle touched down earlier today.
God bless America (for stuff like this). Columbia, Challenger, Atlantis, Discovery & Endeavour, particularly. I remember being glued to the TV watching Columbia land after the inaugural shuttle flight. Countless hair-on-back-of-neck moments and 30 years and 135 missions later, I watch the very last shuttle land.
It feels like as a race, we’ve done something unimaginably stupid by not being more proactive about the direct replacement of this programme. NASA and the us.gov are indeed continuing with “The Space Programme” but the focus certainly seems to have shifted. The re entry shuttle was a natural progression of a rocket for getting people and things into space and without, it feels like things have taken a step back. Funding was pulled on the X-33 / VentureStar programme in 2001 largely due to political economical constraints bolstered by technical teething hurdles that would have taken some effort to surpass.
As a child, it seemed feasible that the we would see men on Mars and beyond – within my own life time but now the only real effort being put into the space race is the commercial angles of space tourism and satellite communications.
I dearly hope that by the time my children’s children read this, there has been a paradigm shift towards the notion of true space exploration.