The Space Shuttle, the Great Space Adventure of My Adulthood

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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.

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Just as the Apollo program that landed a man on the Moon was the space program of my childhood, the space shuttle has been the NASA space adventure of my adulthood. And now the space shuttle era is drawing to a close. While cold logic dictates that the shuttle era, like anything else, must have an end, the heart has a little sadness. The space shuttle may not have fulfilled the promise of affordable space exploration, but the fleet of reusable orbiters accomplished much. The International Space Station was forged mainly by space shuttle flights.

The Hubble telescope was deployed, repaired, and refurbished a number of times. Satellites were launched and recovered. Experiments without number were conducted. Americans learned much of the art of space flight in the 30 years the space shuttle flew. Watching people work in space on television on a regular basis was something unimaginable in living memory.

And lives were lost, as America paid the price of admiralty on the airless sea. I remember the day the Challenger died, almost running off the road when the news came on the radio, and being transfixed with horror at the scene played over and over again on television. I remember when Columbia became an angry comet, streaking across the skies over Texas, like some dark omen on my television one Saturday morning.

But there was glory too. One year I was privileged to see the launch of a space shuttle, quite close at the Kennedy Space Center. There is nothing quite like it on this Earth.

It began with a roar, as if some beast were suddenly unchained to leap skyward. Then there was the fire and smoke that within seconds painted the sky from horizon to horizon as the orbiter rose skyward, finally vanishing into the clear blue sky.

I have seen the Sistine Chapel, the pyramids, and castles in England with my own eyes. Up with them in terms of beauty and the capacity to inspire awe is the launch of a space craft, filled with human beings, headed out to the High Frontier. What a marvel is Man that he can wrought such things!

After July there will be no more space shuttle launches. An incompetently designed and risky plan to create private space ships is now under way. If and when they start to fly skyward, they will inspire some awe, even though they will be taxis, taking people to and from low Earth orbit as mundanely as airliners taking people.

But as the hair grows gray and the body weakens on the long journey toward death, I wonder when the next great adventure will occur and how. When will the next space ships climb skyward, taking explorers once again to the unknown places, to the Moon again and hence to Mars and elsewhere? Not knowing this makes the end of the shuttle program all the more saddening.

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