On Tuesday morning, space shuttle Discovery will become the first of NASA's three shuttles — plus a shuttle prototype — to travel to its new retirement home.
I read the above and it has made me go into another of my semi-regular NASA rants.
|Off to the old folks home|
Unfortunately, I have actually lived through a mostly depressing era of space exploration. The inaugural launch of the Columbia was delayed and delayed again. Once it was launched, it sure was not being launched bi-weekly as advertised during the NASA tour I took as a kid circa 1980. Then on a black day in 1986, the Challenger blew up. The Freedom Space Station was more talk than action and never seemed to get closer to being built. By the time I reached college and took Astronomy 101-2, we had beautiful Hubble images to behold. Unfortunately, it took a rescue mission to make the machine work correctly to get the best results. The repair was impressive, but should not have been necessary.
By the time of Mir and the ISS, the thrill was gone. What were we doing with these outposts other than keeping them running and dodging space debris? Then on another black day, the Columbia burned up. My despair over our space program reached a new low.
Now the space shuttles which fired my imagination as a 10 year old are being flown to their final resting places throughout the country. NASA is plotting to get men on Mars by the 2030s. Instead of being fired up over this bit of news, my thought is “sure, I’ll believe it when I see it.” I do not have any kids, but I doubt many of them play Astronaut these days. It might be more thrilling to play Greyhound bus driver.*
I can speculate and opine where things went wrong, and like most space geeks I have heard a few theories. I do think it is hard to argue that things did not go terribly off course regardless of the cause. If one would have told me when I was 40 we would have no ability to launch astronauts into low Earth orbit and no solid plan for what to do next or even what the next launch vehicle will be, I would have thought the Soviets must have won the cold war.
*Nothing against bus drivers, I could just as easily say government civil servant attorney. Believe me, no kids ever play at being one of those.