The End of an Era–The Final Shuttle Launch

At the beginning of Apollo 13, Jim Lovell, (played by Tom Hanks), says the following:

“From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon.”

Today, as I watch the final shuttle launch, all I can think is,

“From now on, we live in a world where there is no longer a space shuttle.”

The first shuttle mission took place just a few short months before my second birthday. So, for most of my life, I’ve watched the shuttle take off, on a mostly regular schedule, barring disaster. The two failures, Challenger and Columbia, are, of course, forever seared in my mind. But mostly, I have memories of the successful launches…the excitement as the clock counted down, holding my breath as it began its flight, the wonder at watching the solid rocket boosters as they’re jettisoned.

It’s hard for me to believe that there will never be another shuttle launch. No more countdowns, no more watching with my children, huddled around the computer screen, because network TV no longer found it necessary to show our brave astronauts blasting off into space. Really, if there’s anyone to blame for the end of the shuttle program, it’s the American people, for no longer caring when their brothers and sisters traveled to space, for only being interested in the shuttle program when something went wrong, for ignoring all of the research and discovery there is to be done in space.

I hope that NASA continues to work on the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, with the intent of sending astronauts back into space on one of our own ships in the future. Yes, we can continue traveling to the International Space Station courtesy of the Russians, but it’s not the same as being dedicated enough to send up our own rockets. The moon, and eventually Mars, are just waiting to be discovered, and we would be remiss if we let that opportunity pass us by. In the words of Jim Lovell, at the end of Apollo 13,

“I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?”

Quote of the Day–The Final Shuttle Launch

This is a great exchange between launch director Mike Leinbach and Atlantis Commander Christopher Ferguson prior to the final shuttle launch:

“OK, Fergie, we’re starting to feel pretty good down here on the ground about this one today. So on behalf of the greatest team in the world good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of a true American icon. And so for the final time, Fergie, Doug, Sandy, and Rex, good luck, Godspeed, and have a little fun up there…”

“Hey thanks to you and your team Mike. Until the very end you all made it look easy. The shuttle is always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We’re not ending the journey today Mike, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. You and the thousands of men and women who gave their hearts, souls, and their lives for the cause of exploration have rewritten history. Let’s light this fire one more time Mike and witness this great nation at its best. The crew of Atlantis is ready for launch.”