July 28, 2011
NSS Member Reflects on Shuttle
I asked some of the NSS Book Review Committee members to send me their thoughts about the end of the Shuttle Program. One of the reviewers, Susan Raizer, went to see the launch, and sent in this report. I was on travel during the STS-135 flight, and unfortunately am only now able to get this posted. I hope NSS members will appreciate Susan's thoughts as much as I did--Marianne Dyson.
Thoughts About the Final Launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, July, 18, 2011
I watched Atlantis launch on the 135th and final shuttle mission from KARS Park, Merritt Island, FL along with countless other space enthusiasts and NASA employees. It was bittersweet and very emotional for me, with the clouds partially obscuring the launch as the Shuttle program is coming to an end. As a space enthusiast and a space educator, even though I had viewed two other launches (one of them Atlantis in 2007), I felt compelled to be in Florida in person to witness and cheer Atlantis on her final climb uphill.
Seeing the smoke and hearing the roar of her engines, even over the enthusiastic cheering of the viewers, was very sad, knowing that there would never be a live shuttle launch again. Needless to say, there was not a dry eye as she finally disappeared into the clouds on her way to the ISS. I have been watching the mission daily via NASA TV and will be watching, through teary-eyes as Atlantis lands for the last time on July, 21st.
The place that really defined how much the shuttle program means to average people, Americans as well as people from all over the world (people from New Zealand, Hawaii, Ireland and Scotland, as well as Europeans, Asians) whom I met that weekend, was the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. I think that all of the 750,000 estimated people who came down for the launch were at the Complex before, during and after the launch! Everyone good naturedly endured long lines at the gift shops, eating sites and exhibits and tours. All those I spoke with had the same thought-the program should not be ending, especially without a successor craft to get humans into space.
The Shuttle Program has defined American technological and scientific expertise for the past 30 years. From launching satellites to view Earth and the cosmos, to performing important scientific work that has resulted in benefits for society as a whole on Earth to the building of the International Space Station, the shuttles have been the visible means to bring society together.
Also, the shuttles have inspired countless young people to pursue careers in science, engineering and other technological pursuits. This will be lost or severely interrupted as the program ends. The shuttles not only built the space station but were responsible for an unprecedented cooperation among many countries.
It will be several years before commercial companies will be ready to ferry humans into space. The universe awaits mankind, and we cannot let our innate desire to explore and learn slip until the new craft are ready. We must, as members of the National Space Society, continue to strive for human space flight and to educate and inspire the next generation so that when new craft are ready, they will be ready and eager to explore for us.
Posted by m_dyson at July 28, 2011 01:12 AM