1:30 a.m. PDT. I’m sitting in my living room watching NASA-TV in the middle of the night to see the space shuttle Atlantis’ final landing, and with it, the end of the STS program. But the most important factor in Atlantis last touchdown is it also signals the end of the United States’ manned spaced program.
I have a few opinions to express over this turn of events.
On a practical note, I’m wondering why NASA decided to end this historic flight in darkness, when the vast majority of Americans are still in bed (leaving only a handful of hardcore flight watchers willing to sacrifice sleep to say we were there). It gives one pause to ponder why NASA decided it was better to sneak Atlantis back down earth under cover of the pre-dawn gloom rather than plan a final landing with a huge celebration to tout the value and successes of putting humans into space? It is my studied opinion NASA has, once again, been its own worst enemy with regard to publicizing its accomplishments.
My other thought sitting here is having the full awareness that we as a country have ceded our predominance in human flight, a fact that the Russians, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and European space agencies can only consider an enormous gift to their programs. They will undoubedtly continue to accelerate their efforts to exploit the infinite and rich discoveries that await those first humans who have the vision and courage to push past the bonds of low earth orbit.
It deeply grieves me to know in my lifetime, I witnessed both the beginning and the end of my country’s foray into that great human endeavor to explore above the sky and beyond the finite limits of our oceaned world.
But my grief is tinged with frustration, because it didn’t have to end this way. In fact, it shouldn’t be ending at all!