A Sad End to an Amazing Era

The last space shuttle mission is scheduled for blast-off on Friday and when that mission ends, an era of American pride and accomplishment respected throughout the world will also come to an end. When the shuttle Atlantis returns to earth, NASA will be grounded along with the shuttle program and become just another target for budget cuts. We may now be abandoning space.

Typical of so many government agencies, NASA evolved into a lumbering bureaucracy bathed in paperwork. Its mission, well-defined in its infancy, became subject to politics and, therefore, became fuzzier with each new administration. The excitement, awe, and pride that accompanied the first shuttle missions faded as repeated successful missions became commonplace. Only its failures caught the media’s attention, bringing with them questions of relevance.

America’s journey into space was the silver lining in the cloud of the cold war, forced to incredible heights by President Kennedy’s vow to land a man on the moon. Landing that first man on the moon became one of the greatest achievements of mankind – Ever. NASA was at its peak, possibilities seemed endless, and the world could not help but admire its feats.

NASA’s shuttle program was designed to keep man in space, making space exploration and orbital missions as uniquely American as rock & roll. It did that so well and routinely that the public lost interest. Winning the race for space, along with its importance, became a forgotten triumph as many became jaded and calls for an end to such “needless” spending increased.

This is a sad ending to such a great endeavor. The influence the space shuttle missions had on the imaginations and aspirations of children, instilling the desire to become scientists and engineers, will be sorely missed. The designing of computer games and smart phones pales in comparison to a reach for the stars. The technologies used in many products we take for granted are a direct offshoot of that reach.

The end of this amazing era comes at a time when the U.S. seems to be losing its influence around the world. One can only hope this will not go down in history as the beginning of the end for the great American experiment in freedom. Unfortunately, many seem to be tiring of that achievement, too.

David J. Hentosh

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