I don’t know if you are aware, but the space shuttle will never fly again after this year. Never. The fleet is being retired per President GW’s decree back in 2003. See, we were supposed to have a clear path and hardware to go back to the moon, on to Mars and beyond by now. It’s not my goal to make this a political post. I am just in awe of how dedicated the NASA family is to their missions and how much the general public doesn’t care.
If you don’t know much about our space program, it’s OK. You aren’t alone. You see, NASA doesn’t have a lot of money for public relations and what little money it does have is spent on one-off projects with no real strategic plan for outreach to the country. Not only that, but when good employees do come up with strategic plans, they are lost in the mire of the bureaucracy. I know this first-hand.
And while you may not care much about space exploration, think of this: we have one planet, our species will die here if we don’t explore and expand our reach beyond earth. That’s the big picture. All the other cool things we learn about science and human research are just nice fringe benefits. I don’t mean to belittle these things, because I wouldn’t have a cell phone if it weren’t for NASA, but there’s a lot more to it.
So back to the shuttle. There is a launch this week, one in April and one later this year. After that, they go to museums for people to gawk at and wonder what the whole point of this program really was. Where do we go from here? There are a lot of companies out there that think they have a plan and can get us into space safely and more cost effective than the shuttle. I hope they can. I hope they get heaps of funding for their programs and get us exploring the cosmos beyond low earth orbit. And I hope they do it soon.
While the retirement of the remaining shuttle fleet is sentimental, I am more moved by the people involved in this program. Some came to the shuttle program straight from college 35 years ago and are still here, working until the doors close and they are escorted out of the building with only a cardboard box of memorabilia. Some are hold-overs from Apollo and Mercury and have been with NASA since it opened. These people are the most dedicated individuals I have ever seen. I know grown men who still tear up at every shuttle launch. I know I do. It’s a shame that they just have to walk away from their dreams this year. Like being forced to a divorce you when you still desperately love your spouse.
These people are a family – the NASA family. They are caring, passionate, dysfunctional and loyal. There are a few black sheep, but most are bright stars that pierce the night sky. I don’t know what the future holds for a lot of people, including myself and my husband, but I do know this: I have been fortunate to be a part of this program and it will stay with me forever.