Over 30 years ago we witnessed the first Space Shuttle being ferried around the beltway on the back of a 747. At the time, the Shuttle represented the apparent future of space travel. A reusable vehicle that would fly back to earth after each mission. Anyone excited about the space program in the late 70s had very high hopes for this not so small step for man’s space exploration. With great fan fair the first shuttle, Enterprise, was flown around the nation for Americans to see. It was an awesome site lumbering through the air as it circled Washington, DC. It was unique. It made us feel proud to be American and the prevailing power in the space race.
Well this past Tuesday we once again witnessed this awesome sight but unfortunately this time with the sad knowledge that we were witnessing the retirement of the last of the operational fleet of Shuttles. A fleet of vehicle that made it possible to launch and then later repair the Hubble space telescope. A fleet of vehicle with unique cargo capabilities that made the building of the international space station possible. A fleet of vehicles that completed 133 successful missions between 1981 to 2011. Tuesday’s fly over represents the end of the future of space flight and brings with it an uncertainty about the new future of NASA and space exploration.
With the Orion Capsule being the only thing on the drawing boards, one has to wonder if we are not taking one giant leap backwards for man kind. It all makes me wonder what this little guy has to look forward to over the next 30 years. He was very cute with his Lego space shuttle flying it around in anticipation of seeing the real thing… Will he have proud and fond memories of adventures in space 30 years from now? Or will he have to settle for the mediocrity that seems to have settled into the culture of our leadership. We got into the space race over 50 years ago not through mediocrity but with the national pride that drove us to beat the Russians and be the worlds best. The most ironic turn of events today is the simple fact that, with the retirement of the Shuttle program, we are now dependent on the Russians to get back into space. Makes me ask, who actually did win the space race.
Nevertheless, Tuesday’s fly over was a sight to be seen. The shear power of the 747 was incredible, as it flew directly over our heads west to east over Rosslyn and the Iwo Jima Memorial at 1500ft. It brought goose bumps and the shaking that accompanies the excitement of seeing such an awesome event. Terry and I were privileged to witness the flight 30 years ago and Tuesday we were once again privileged to see the final flight of Discovery.
By now we’ve all seen hundreds of photographs of this historic event. Just like most of mine, many are close up shots of a magnificent piece of machinery. But standing on the grounds of Netherlands Carillon, adjacent to the Iwo Jima Memorial and looking out over the city, I found this image very ironic as Discovery flew over the very body of government that chose to mothball the program.
It makes you wonder if we are really watching our superiority in space exploration fly off into the sunset.
I certainly hope not for the sake of all the small children who witnessed Discovery as it enjoyed its final flight to the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport.