Saturday, May 15, 2010

Atlantis Farewell

Usually if an emotional tone can be applied to my posts here, anger would be the appropriate term.  But not today.  Today I am sad.

I underestimated how sad I could be about this, but here we are and I feel an encroaching malaise.

The spaceshuttle Atlantis is orbiting above us today for the last time (barring a rescue mission for one of the following two final missions of the shuttle program).

I was born in the autumn of 1969, a few months after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, inspiring the space-program in ways that I, born into the era of space exploration took for granted.

I recall clearly sitting with rapt attention in the living room of a childhood friend watching as the first shuttle mission returned succesfully to earth, and we both sat down to pancakes declaring that we wanted to be astronauts.

Fast forward several years to the Challenger disaster.  Many of my longest friends know my story.  It is infamous about how I had what was at the time one of the most frustrating "could-anything-else-go-wrong" days a young person could have - and I managed to spend the entire day oblivious of what had happened that morning... sure enough, that evening when I saw the news, not only was my day worse, but I recieved a clear lesson that, as much as I seemed to think so at the time, the world did NOT revolve around me and indeed there were a great many people whose days had been MUCH worse.

Fast forward again to the second shuttle disaster which occurred on the day I was moving in with my then fiancee.  It was not a good omen.  She and I lasted about a year in our new home before our relationship fell apart at the seams - though I don't pretend it had anything to do with the shuttle disaster.

Today I am an expectant father, with a wonderful girlfriend who I know will make a fantastic mother.  Atlantis is making her final journey while my daughter (indications are) gestates.  She will be born into a world where the space program is in stasis.  A well-meaning and ambitious stasis, but stasis none-the-less.

The period between my birth and hers spans all but a half-dozen months of the most productive time in the history of space exploration and commerce, and in November it all comes to a screeching halt, courtesy of a lack of foresight.

I'm not really accusing NASA of failure (and indeed, who am I - a Canadian - to take such a feeling of ownership of the US Space Program?) they must have done the best they could with funding that dribbled thinner and thinner as the public appetite dwindled furthere and futher on a feast of complacency.  That itself is something I was oblivious of until I first saw Apollo 13, and then realized it had been going on since Armstong landed back on terra firma.

Weren't we suppose to be so much further by now? What happened? How can we have failed to such a degree where scaling back is the best way forward?

Anyhow... I'm not really sure what my point is here.  I'm sad.  I am mourning the fate of the space program.

I am sure that a commerce based space industry will quickly surpass what the public one could... but I can't help but thinking that it's all going to be just a bit dirty, fouled by the worst parts of consumerism.


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