Part of my past really disappears on Friday with the launch of the last shuttle mission. That, of course, is assuming the weather is good enough for a Friday launch. The weather office is working with a 70% chance that the weather won’t permit the launch on that day.
I watched the first one, although a day later than planned when the first launch scrubbed because the computers’ times weren’t synchronized. And now, I’ll see the last. Yes, I also watched most of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches as well. I think I’ll miss the shuttle more because it seemed, although it only seemed, to make space flight a bit more pedestrian and accessible (remember that, at the time the Challenger exploded, that there were 752 different systems that could fail on launch and result in the “destruction of the orbiter,” according to NASA). No, the shuttle was not like taking the bus, but at least, appeared more bus-like than Mercury with its single astronaut or even Apollo with its three. The first three projects gave you a hundred of millions to one chance you would ever travel in space. The shuttle, carrying crews of seven, upped the chances a small bit and there were far more launches because the orbiter was reusable.
But, this is not why I truly will miss the shuttle. It was due to be replaced due to technological reasons. They are older equipment and really need to be upgraded. The upgrade, however, the X-33 project, was cancelled due to funding restrictions several years ago. This left the STS project with a fixed timeline for ending with no system in place to replace it when gone. The resupply missions to the International Space Station will be done with Soyuz rockets. The ISS program is supposed to last until about 2020, with no real program planned for the west after that point.
We see some of the reasons for the termination of the project here as well as in the US. We see the same in Europe, too. There has become a call for tax relief and the call for “individual accountability” for taxes. Governments pander to the growing calls of the “what’s in it for me” crowd. For example, our federal government is planning to cut the per-vote payments to political parties on the grounds that taxpayers’ money may go to parties that individual people didn’t vote for. In short, the somewhat restrictive view of governments has turned from what can we actually do in the grander scheme of things to how can we save money. Sadly, progress is predicated on the former concept and once again, we seem a species destined to go its merry way, following the rule that states that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed have failed to adapt to changing environments and become extinct.
So, when Atlantis lifts off somewhere over the next week or so, and then returns, we should think on the one point that becomes evident as time goes on: we really have to stop leaving dinosaurs in charge of things…