Space Shuttle Discovery launched into space for the final time on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, at 4:53 p.m.. Despite a brief delay, the shuttle managed liftoff before the launch window closed. This is Discovery’s 39th trip into space.
Discovery is the oldest shuttle in NASA’s fleet. Her maiden voyage in 1984 roared with the hope and promise of a new era of spaceflight. Now, she’s tired; she had to be patched up to achieve this final flight. Even so, she looks as majestic and awesome today as she always has. Her performance still carries the same raw power. It feels tragic that she will retire after she returns to Earth at the end of this final mission.
At least she will enjoy a prestigious retirement on display at the Smithsonian. She will stand as a testament to the space shuttle program and all that it achieved.
Unfortunately, Discovery is only the first of the shuttles that are about to retire. In actual fact, the entire shuttle program is about to retire. The remaining two shuttles still in service, Endeavour and Atlantis, each have just one more final mission in their futures before they too will retire. There will be no more space shuttles.
In fact, at this time, there are no plans to replace the shuttles with something else. This isn’t the march of progress. This is the backpedaling of regress.
NASA has operated manned missions into space for 60 years. Reusable shuttles have been a cornerstone of that effort for the past 30 years. All of that is scheduled to end in July of this year.
Manned spaceflight is nothing less than a dream come true. Every time a shuttle (or any other manned vehicle) lifts off and leaves the confines of the Earth, all of humanity soars to new heights. Spaceflight challenges people to reach for their dreams. Obviously, the human race has no bounds. Even the Earth cannot hold us back. We can do anything we set our minds to do. Our hard work can and does pay off in miracles in the end.
Spaceflight especially encourages kids to strive to make something of themselves. Many children dream of becoming an astronaut one day.
With the space program in place, there’s a good chance that could happen. At the very least, a few lucky and talented people will join the space program every year. One day in the future, anyone who wants to may be able to vacation in orbit.
Granted, many of us in my generation believed that we would be there by now, and it’s taking longer than we thought it would – but at least we were making progress in that direction. With the space program in place, it could happen by the time today’s young kids have reached adulthood.
Plus, of course, there are all the practical applications of space, including scientific research and technological advancement. Having a national space program keeps our country in the forefront by giving us direct access. Countries without a space program of their own have to ask other governments for a lift or stay at home and miss the party.
Now it feels like our country is just giving up. It feels like space is too much for our government.
Times are tough these days. We really need a star to pin our hopes for a bright future on. It’s a real shame that the government is shutting down our access to the real stars.
Dunn, Marcia. “NASA Space Shuttle Discovery Launch: PHOTOS Of The Final Flight.” Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. N.p., 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.
“NASA – The Long Voyage of Discovery.” NASA – Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.
Powers, Scott, and Orlando Sentinel. “Space shuttle Discovery launch: Space shuttle Discovery launched on its final mission – chicagotribune.com.” Chicago Tribune: Chicago news, sports, weather and traffic – chicagotribune.com. N.p., 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.
spacevidcast. “YouTube – Discovery’s Last Ride.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. . Nasatelevision, 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.