I wrote a post last year about the end of the Space Shuttle program, titled 'Space Shutttle: End of an Era', that can be read here. It has, over time, been one of the most popular postings on my blog. I think there is a simple reason why. For my generation (I was born in the early 70s), we missed out on Mercury and Apollo. We didn't see Neil Armstrong land on the moon. Our vision of space travel began with the Space Shuttle.
Additionally, we did not see the great disasters of American History...Pearl Harbor, and that assasinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. What we did see was the Challenger explode on a January morning in 1986, and more recently the Columbia disintegrating on re-entry. Those images are seared into many of our memories.
July 8, 2011 is the scheduled launch of the 135th and last space shuttle mission. This is, for all practical purposes, the end for the last great American space program.
Where does NASA go from here? Financial realities mean that it will be a downsized program, and likely will have less manned flights. From now until the eventual successor of the Shuttle, Americans will be dependent on the Russian space program to keep the International Space Station alive. In fact, other than the minimal current activity by the Chinese, the Russian will basically own human space travel for the next decade.
American space travel and exploration will continue. But something truly palpable ends today. America led the way into space, and the Shuttle program's termination brings a large part of that to an end. This will be a program more concerned about costs than discovery, less concerned about going to Mars than to send satellites to investigate global warming. That is simply the world we live in.
So goodbye, Space Shuttle...you will not be forgotten, but you will be missed.
This has been cross posted on Neoavatara.