Thursday, July 21, 2011

Welcome Home, Atlantis

At 5:57 am this morning, the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed safely at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, marking the end of the 30-year program. According to CNN, the shuttle program has sent 355 people from 16 countries to space, with 5 shuttles on a total of 135 missions.

The first shuttle, Columbia, launched on Sunday, April 12, 1981, a little less than a month before my 9th birthday. It was an exciting day because that was my first taste of real space exploration. Being a big Star Trek and Star Wars fan I dreamed of the stars. I was just an infant when the last Apollo mission launched, so I had never scene anything like this. Yes, there was Skylab, but the last manned mission to that space station was when I was 2 years old and what I remember most about Skylab was my fear that a piece of it would crash on my house when it came crashing to Earth 5 years later (luckily, it disintegrated in the atmosphere).

Of course, there is Tuesday, January 28, 1986, the day the Challenger exploded. I was in 8th grade and the nuns turned on the TV to watch the broadcast during class. The two things I remember most from then are the iconic image of the smoke plume and President Reagan's touching tribute. The closing lines stay with me:
We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'
So 25 years after that tragedy the shuttle program ends. NASA does not have concrete plans as to what will follow it. There is talk of a manned flight to Mars or even a return to the Moon, but that is just talk. I hope we return to space soon and not just unmanned missions. Humanity has always dreamed of the stars and I hope that the end of the space program doesn't mark the waning of that dream.

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