I forgot to take care of this the other day, but for those who missed it, the space shuttle Atlantis came in for a smooth landing in Florida … the finale of space shuttle mision 135 … the very last for the fleet of shuttles.
The first shuttle flight I remember vividly in April 1981 …I was in band, and we were starting to learn a new piece called Starship One by Jay Chattaway (who would by coincidence go on to be one of the primary composers for Star Trek: The Next Generation a few years later. I remember the band director talking about how coincidental it was.
I have been a psace enthusiast for a long time, and while there were some Apollo missions still going when I was younger, this was the first manned space travel that I would remember, not to mention the very real science fiction idea that we were going to start using reusable spacecraft.
I also recall that one of the key plans for the shuttle was in construction of an orbital space station … it took a few decades, but the shuttle was critical in building ISS. I recall my good friend Tom being live in studio as the space expert for WILL-TV in Champaign when the shuttle was used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope … I can only imagine if the telescope had been launched with its problems, and no practical mechanism was in place to fix it.
However … it is hard to believe that Richard Nixon approved the plans for the shuttle. Here we are in 2011, and the shuttle which was state of the art in 1981 was actually approved in the early 70s from plans that were first drawn up in the late 1960s. It has been an amazing work horse, but it’s time has come.
Amazingly, most Americans in recent polls want America to maintain leadership in space exploration …. of course they don’t want to pay for it. It looks to me that the next major step in space will not be a government led affair.
Nontheless, for a moment, we can look back with great nostalgia at what I think has been a successful step forward in the history of technology and exploration.