Wrote this a while ago and swear I published it, but here it is unpublished, but it deserves to be put up, so here it is. 🙂
In the last few months I have found myself learning more and more about NASA and the shuttle program down at Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida. I lucked into a spot at the NASA STS134 Tweetup and was able to make it back for the second launch attempt as the first one was scrubbed for a couple weeks. I have re-found the enthusiasm for space exploration that I had as a child watching Space Camp, this was back when each launch was played in our classrooms, that is until the fateful day that Challenger exploded during launch. I’m not sure I ever saw a launch live at school again. It is sad that a tragedy such as that could stop us following NASA as closely. Maybe it was because it was hard to explain to school children that the astronauts on that shuttle were dead and what that meant for us as a nation, those families, or the program itself.
Space is full of unknowns. There have been deaths along the way. There were two shuttle explosions, Challenger and later Columbia after their mission was completed that occurred during their re-entry. There were deaths before that, almost at the very beginning of the United States space exploration, Apollo 1 caught fire during a Launch-pad test. Apollo 1 showed the risks. A cellphone that we carry in our pockets now has more technology in it then they had when the first manned spacecraft went into space. If we could launch a man into space with that little bit of technology, what can we do now?
It has amazed me during the last few months how many people seemed to be relieved that the program was ending, stating that the cost was too much. When informed how little NASA actually gets of the federal budget these people were surprised, they all seemed to think it was much, much more. They also seemed surprised to learn what all NASA has given us technologically speaking. They did not know it was NASA who gave us Velcro, Tevlon, Light-weight metal alloys that we use in bathrooms/kitchens/in vehicles, they didn’t know it was communications technology from NASA that helped make modern cellphones available and usable by the public, or the amount of medical research that is done in space.
Other people were unaware of the discontinuation of the shuttle program and shocked to learn about it. They just assumed it was going as strong as ever. Some don’t realize that the shuttle program was around for about 30 years now, that it could only ever go to low earth orbit. I acknowledge that now that the international space station is build, our need of the shuttle is less. They don’t need the large cargo bay to hall up parts to the station. I do think we’d be better off keeping one shuttle in working order, just in case, until we have our next vehicle available for space travel. (This point has been proved with the crash of the Russian vehicle into space…could ending our shuttle program bring about the ending of the ISS many years earlier then planned?)
Where is NASA going now? Will there be further manned space flights from NASA, from the US? I don’t know. I sure hope so, and I hope that the American people realize the importance of that dream, of reaching for the stars! The dream of being an astronaut is important for our children. It keeps the imagination open and allows us the dream of going out into the universe, away from Earth to try to find other lifeforms. It keeps the imaginations going and expands our technology. It forces us to come up with better communication modes, of faster ways to travel, of ways to keep our astronauts healthy in an anti gravitational environment. The problems we have discovered from space travel have pushed us to keep motivated to change, to find better ways of doing things, and to grow as a people. Who would have thought when the space shuttle program started back in the 1970s and 1980s that one of our closest allies in the 2000s would be Russia? That they would be one of the key allies to get our astronauts into space now that we are ending our space shuttle program?
The dream is alive and we need to keep reaching for the stars. We need to keep our children’s eyes looking up. As tight as our budgets here on earth are, the jobs that are created by the NASA programs are invaluable to our future. People just need to open their eyes, see what is there, and dream of touching it.