Thursday, July 21, 2011

End of an Era

Whilst it is most definitely true that I'm sad to see the Shuttle program end - I've been an avid fan and follower, watching the majority of launches, landings, dockings, undockings, deployments, EVAs and other points of interest since STS-1 launched on 12 April, 1981 with Shuttle Columbia and its 2 man crew (Commander John W Young and Pilot Robert L Crippen) - this is the end of a much more significant era.

When the Mercury program ended in 1963, there was already the Gemini program snapping at its heels, which then started in 1965 and ended in 1966.  Gemini was followed by the Apollo program in 1967 which continued through until 1972 and delivered 12 men onto the moon - the only time in our history that we've set foot on another celestial body, which was and still is quite an achievement.  The final 3 Apollo missions (18 through 20) were cancelled to funnel money into the upcoming Shuttle program that first launched in 1981 and ended just a few minutes ago, at 05:57:54 AM US EDT on 21 July, 2011.

The Shuttle program was supposed to be followed by the Constellation Program, however President Obama announced on 1 Feb, 2010 that he was canning it, which became all but official on 11 October, 2010.  His new Space Program has relatively vague guidelines of a heavy-lift launch vehicle being designed by 2015 and construction to commence some time after this as well as a US-crewed orbital Mars mission by the mid 2030s - with no other definite goals and ideas.  Basically, in my opinion, Obama just canned the Human Space Flight Programs of NASA and the US for the foreseeable future.

So, this is not really simply the end of an era for the Shuttle Program, it is the end of an era for US Human Space Flight and exploration, and this is truly what's sad about today.  Yesterday we celebrated the anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969 and today NASA's human space flight is over.  At least for my lifetime.  And that's really, really disappointing.

The money that's spent on wars and military conflicts and the death and destruction of humanity far exceeds that spent on human exploration.  I find that this is a sad comment on humanity.  Humankind has 2 main characteristics - the need and will to explore and the need and will to kill each other - I still hold hope for our future, that we will eventually realise that we need to all work together to make this planet a better (and nicer) place to live and that we *will* need to find another place to spread our wings to.  I still hold hope that we will do this before we wipe ourselves out.

The end of the US-based Human Space Flight most certainly doesn't spell the end of Human Space Flight - but it sure opens a wide gap between the Shuttle program and the next stepping stone.  I just hope someone can step up to make that leap and continue our exploration of the universe and our expansion of human knowledge.


The Outspoken Wookie

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