Space still beckons

Eras end. New ones begin. Space still beckons and humankind will answer the call.

2011 July 8, Atlantis launches, NASA's 135th and final space shuttle launch
(h/t to Sister Toldjah for the inspiration)

SplashdownFirst, the awful price:

Columbia raining down on Texas.
Columbia's crew

I will never forget sitting down with my daughter to watch Mr Rogers, turning on the tube, and seeing Dan Rather with a model of Challenger and feeling suddenly sick to my stomach before he said a word.
Challenger's crew

Hearing that three heroes burned to death on the launchpad.
The Apollo 1 crew, Grissom, White, and Chaffee

Boot on the moonAh, but, that first flight of Alan Shepard. John Glenn orbiting the globe. I used to know all the names of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts. It was not a bad thing when space travel became so frequent, so common, that I lost track. The first space docking, the first EVA. Circling the moon for the first time, and that tremendous thrill of hearing the light-seconds of delay in communications. Armstrong's bootprint in moondust! Watching men bounce along in 1/6th G.

And that was just the Americans. Despicable Communism aside, from Sputnik to Laika to Gregarin and on through the rest of their accomplishments and disasters, space-age kids like me thrilled to all advances in the exploration of space. Even the first (mostly) scientifically accurate cinematic portrayal of a space station, docking, false gravity, moon base, and planetary travel portrayed in 2001: A Space Odessey was a thrilling part of the ride.

Rockets and space shuttles had two sides, though. Rocketry, disappointingly, supplanted the original space plane program, allegedly because of military interest in developing more accurate bomb delivery (a la ICBM). The space truck was a dangerous, complicated, cumbersome vehicle. So, it was not all as glorious as it was painted, nor as elegant as it might have been. Taxes aplenty were wasted.

And now that we have no future in NASA, is it a bad thing? Might we now see true space planes again, or even seemingly crazy ideas like space elevators? Might we see private investment replacing tax expenditures, rapid entrepreneurial innovation instead of elephantine government plodding? Well, not if O'Bama has anything to say about it, of course, but if we survive him, we may see a greater day than ever in space. Our satellites, and our primitive robots have paved the way to Mars, the farthest planets, and beyond the solar system. In time, human footprints will again mark the dust of other worlds.

Eras end. New ones begin. Space still beckons and humankind will answer the call.