Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of . . .
When I was a child, one of the most exciting things to ever happen was to have an American walking on the Moon. President Kennedy said we should do it within 10 years of his inauguration not because it was easy, but because it was hard. In 1969, we did it! There was Apollo Fever everywhere.
Every time there was a rocket launch, if it was a school day, all classes would stop and every student and teacher gathered around a television set on top of a wheeled cart with rabbit ears pointed askew. I will never forget those gut wrenching seconds in front of the TV with Walter Cronkite when Apollo 13 was late re-establishing radio contact after re-entry. I still choke up every time I see it on TV or in a movie. Since then, manned space flight has became routine. Who stops to watch a launch these days?
By 1968 NASA was already working on "shuttle" designs. In 1972 the shuttle program became official and Apollo 18 was canceled. The first test flight of the Space Shuttle occurred in 1976 when the Enterprise separated from the back of a 747 to test its ability to land as a glider. During these years, we were still putting men on top of giant ICBM's to get to the Moon, Skylab, and The Handshake in Space with our Soviet counterparts. The first launch of the Shuttle didn't happen until 1981. I remember a great sense of anticipation during that period of time when the Apollo program ended and the Shuttle blasting off into space.
The space shuttle system is old. Some of the technology in the shuttles hasn't been made in many years. The time has truly come to put them into retirement. The end of an era has come.
The space program has been indispensable for our progress. In my lifetime we have for the first time in human history truly been able to see and understand the weather. The sextant and celestial sightings for navigation have been replaced with Global Positioning Satellites. Do you remember when a long distance call would have a second or two delay between you speaking and the other person responding? The Space Shuttle lifted the Hubble Telescope and revealed God as the greatest artist and engineer of all in his layout of the universe. Even velcro and the humble ball point pen were invented for the space program.
Now we are entering another period of anticipation. We have known for years that the Shuttle program was coming to an end. For safety reasons, it has to end. My 1983 Schwin LeTour bicycle was advertized as being "made from the same alloy as the Space Shuttle." Sadly, it gave up the ghost a handful of years ago and did not endure nearly as much as the shuttle itself.
Unfortunately, there is nothing ready to replace the Space Shuttle. The Constellation and Ares programs have just been canceled. Orion, now revived from cancellation to save jobs, will not be ready for lift off for quite some time and appears to be destined as a life raft for the International Space Station. Our next goal, Mars, doesn't yet seem quite clearly defined.
Humans haven't landed on another body since Apollo 17 in December of 1972. Now we won't be sending men into space at all for some time. We will be relying on the Russians for that. They still use rockets, which are literally fueled with kerosene.
Do you remember the predictions that Space Shuttle flights would be as regular as airliner flights? There is hope that private industry and entrepreneurs will pick up the slack. An idea that has been thrown around since the 90s. I would definitely like to see that. For now, we space junkies will have to be patient, hopeful, and filled with anticipation as we wait to discover what will be coming next.