Bye bye, Miss American Pie

Apollo in 1969. Shuttle in 1981. Nothing in 2011. Our space program would look awesome to anyone living backwards thru time.

The future sucks.

I was born too late for the Apollo program when men walked on the moon (supposedly), but I arrived just in time to remember Skylab, and I remember well the full arc of the Shuttle program: Columbia’s first mission, Sally RideStory Musgrave with all his PhD’s, the Challenger disaster (I cried my eyes out that day), the launch & later repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, the rendezvous with Mir, the construction of the ISS, and Columbia’s last mission.

Heck, growing up, there was a Rockwell plant down the street, and I liked to think that they were helping build the thing. And I remember going to Space Camp as a teenager, where we almost got to see Challenger test-fire it’s engines, but it was scrubbed due to the weather. And earlier, I remember visiting the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville while visiting relatives there.

As much as any other kid could, I grew up loving this stuff.

Today, 30 years later, that era that I grew up with is coming to a close.

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And for the most part, my kids will be too young to remember it, other than as toys.

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I also remember, not so long ago, when you could actually plop down a few thousand dollars of your hard-earned cash, and buy a ticket for the Concorde, a plane that could take you across the Atlantic Ocean in two hours. Of course, now you can only see it in museums. I never got to fly in one, but I did reach over the barrier and touch one of the tires, which counts for something I suppose.

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Heck, I remember when the Air Force had the SR-71 Blackbird, which could go twice as fast as the Concorde. Nowadays, the Blackbird is an old museum piece too, of course.

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These days, the cutting edge of advanced technology comes in things like the iPhone and the Prius. These are fine inventions and all, but if this is the best we have to offer these days, surely that shows a lack of ambition, no?

 

If Earth were the size of a school-room globe, the Moon would be 30-ft away. Mars, more than a mile away.

 

If Earth were size of a school-room globe, you’d find Shuttle and Space Station orbiting 3/8th of an inch above its surface.

 

Many lament the shuttle era’s end. But it was boldly going where hundreds had gone before. Time to go new places.

 

I understand the argument that the Shuttle was an evolutionary dead-end and a waste of money. We aren’t going to be able to pay for trips to Mars & beyond if we aren’t willing to scrap expensive technology that can’t even make it past low Earth orbit.

And that would be fine, if we had a plan for what comes next. But we don’t seem to.

 

Many lament the shuttle era’s end. But that’s misplaced sentiment. Lament instead the absence of an era to replace it.

 

A reminder that nobody lamented the end of Gemini because Apollo was set to launch from the pad next-door.

 

Where do we go from here? Museums? Really?

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On the bright side, the iPhone photos will look great, and we’ll burn slightly less gas getting there.

So there’s that, I guess.

Yay?

And dreams of me — or, more realistically now, my kids — growing up to be astronauts one day. Up in smoke?

Let’s hope not.

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