Wednesday, March 9, 2011

She's Coming Home....For the Final Time

Her landing will be the opposite of her launch. A quiet bird, gently falling back to Earth, with two resounding sonic booms to announce her arrival. She will have traveled over 148 million miles over a 27 year lifespan. She can boast the flight of the oldest human in space, an American hero. She has watched virgin astronauts light up as they feel the powerful rumble under their seats, and stare in wonder as they gaze back home from her windows. She may be full of man-made circuits and computers and cables, but underneath she has the soul of all those who helped design her, build her, and dreamed what it would be like to take a ride into space aboard her.
And as she slips back through the atmosphere, and glows bright red from the friction, I sit here wondering what it will be like without her. I am overcome by a sense of urgency, I want to grab Americans by their collars, look them in the eyes and ask,
“Do you know what you are doing? Do you know what your POLICY MAKERS are doing?”  
“How can we be the greatest country in the world and not have our own reliable access to space?”
We are shooting ourselves in the foot, and unfortunately, I don’t think anyone will realize it until it is too late. The next generation will have nothing to relate to, no rockets with actual people on them, launched from the United States. What kind of message does that send? We want to become better educated as a nation in math and science and encourage our children to choose these fields, but we don’t want to support programs that actually apply math and science and tug at the heartstrings of one of the greatest human experiences…exploration?
Sometimes I feel that we are too focused on molehills on the ground to take a mature step back and realize the importance of looking up.
Discovery’s final landing today should signal the closing out of one era and a move towards the next. And we are moving alright, with no foreseeable replacement, hitch-hikes on the Russian capsules, and a long road towards self-reliance in space again. Is this the path we want to choose, America?
Are we being true to the astronauts that risked their lives, the engineers who poured their heart into the space program, the media who had to cover the disasters, the children that based their dreams on the success of America’s space program?
“And to the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say farewell, Discovery,” said NASA Commentator Josh Byerly.