Yesterday, NASA launched the space shuttle Atlantis in the program’s final shuttle launch. For some, this marked a sad end of a national dream of exploration and discovery. The shuttle program was officially launched in 1972 by President Nixon, who announced the program as a reusable space transportation system. The original goal of the program was as a less expensive alternative to earlier space launches, and which would be utilized by NASA, the Department of Defense, and commercial users. However, by 2008, the expense of each shuttle launched was estimated at $450 million, unsustainable by budgetary standards and unredeemable to many legislators, especially during the recession.
I am saddened at the loss of the shuttle launch program. NASA astronauts will continue to travel into space to maintain orbiting equipment, through partnership with other nations’ space programs. Yet, the sense of exploration is gone now, or at very best, quieted by the dimming of this program. Americans have had a long fascination with the sense of discovery, if not with particular space shuttle launches themselves, as evidenced through the rich oeuvre of popular culture figures representing that explorative desire:
My favorite space exploration figure is not fictional, however. Yet, he is the most fantastic and the one I thought of the most with a tear in my eye as Atlantis tore through the Earth’s atmosphere. Carl Sagan brought the cosmos closer to Earth in his series of books, television episodes, and articles. He helped us look out into the vastness of the universe and discover humanity and a sense of wonder.
Also, “A Glorious Dawn” is a really great tribute to Sagan and other astrophysicists who have been seduced by the mysteries of the universe.