Yahoo! News asked its readers and contributors to share their memories of the space shuttle program as it nears its end in July. Below is a story from a contributor.
Because we lived near Roswell, N.M., my family had a unique perception on NASA's beginnings in 1959. Behind closed doors, the adults whispered of governmental conspiracies. As my brother and I scampered outside, Grandma cautioned, "Something happened out there. You kids better be careful." Grandpa chimed, "This government's hiding a secret. That's what's happened."
Conspiracy or not, throughout the '60s, the United States began its ascent into space with Tiros 1, a weather satellite. A mere four months later on Aug. 18, we listened as the radio reported Discoverer XIV launched a camera-equipped Corona spy satellite.
Americans' fascination with space grew as Mercury Friendship 7 lifted off Feb. 20, 1962, launching the first American, John Glenn, into orbit. When M. Scott Carpenter made three orbits in Mercury Aurora 7 on May 24 of the same year, we knew space-traveling monkeys were extinct.
On July 10, 1962, beams of the first live transatlantic telecast from Telstar 1 showed the average citizen applicable uses for satellites. Our parents argued endlessly regarding these flights. To them, they were nothing more than lies perpetrated by the government to gain more tax money. Nonetheless, they were mesmerized when viewing close-range photographs of the moon sent from US Ranger 7 on July 31, 1964. My father's take was, "Ever since Aliens landed in New Mexico, we've been out to find and conquer them."
My brother and I were captivated as we laid before the black and white television, watching as our nation landed on the moon in 1969. When the space shuttle rolled out in January 1972, I was turning 8. My friends and I stared into the sea of stars waiting for alien ships to enter our atmosphere. President Richard Nixon was a God in our eyes. He was ruling a kingdom of space travelers. I dreamed of galaxies far away and was sure we'd grow up to travel the universe.
Watching our nation grow with space exploration, I also witnessed tragedy. Perhaps the Challenger explosion of 1986 was the foretelling of NASA's demise. Our fears would sink us to the bottom, instilling the cold reality: We were doomed to never truly appreciate space. Technology brings a price tag and each trip was costing nearly $7 million. After our government requested private sector involvement, Virgin Airlines turned weightless travel into a profiteering venture.
The space shuttle program's final days draw near as Atlantis prepares to launch July 8, dropping supplies at an international space station . I am deeply saddened by the course our nation has chosen. Rather than insisting we expand into the universe, we are now at this planet's mercy.
Unfortunately, our leaders have deemed further space explorations will be traveled with the Russians (our tax dollars lining their accounts). Hopefully soon they'll wake up to the fact that we're meant to spread out into the universe -- not as a dream, but as part of the master plan.