Wednesday, July 06, 2011

up up and away

last one by shlomi yoav (shlomi_y) on 500px.com
last one by shlomi yoav

And so it is time for me to bid adieu to the space shuttle. The very last mission is set to begin this week with the launch of the Atlantis orbiter from the Kennedy Space Center on the Florida coast. This particular launch is a gift from the American people, whose representatives voted last year to tack on one last go before the entire shuttle fleet is permanently grounded and the orbiters put on their pedestals for future generations to ooh and ahh at. Yet those same politicians are also now looking to drastically defund NASA in what amounts to a serious rethinking of whether or not America has a real future in space. Will the U.S. forever take a back seat to the Russians or Chinese or anyone else in our quest to land humans on Mars? It could very well happen. In the U.S. we certainly like to talk the talk when it comes to being innovators, in space development and otherwise, but so often in the past decades, walking the walk has proven to be another story altogether.

Millions of words will be spoken, penned, blogged, and microblogged about this final countdown, so I won't clog the fiber optic cables with too many thoughts on this bittersweet occasion. But I will say that in the end I choose to believe that the American people will keep outer space in mind when they fill out their ballots of the future. And how, you ask, will we do this in the face of economic uncertainty, declining political will and an ever-straining space budget? By reaching out to each other. In the past couple of years I've met, virtually and in real life, more folks than I'd ever known existed who consider space exploration—both robotic and human-based—one of the most important endeavors humanity can undertake. And these folks have passion. If we can group together, to share our excitement with those unaware of what our space program actually does, to get our representatives to think beyond the next election and out toward the stars, to teach our little ones about what they might one day discover beyond our blue planet, we'll have a force to be reckoned with when it comes to our future in the cosmos.

A friend of mine is still hoping to be an astronaut someday. Despite NASA's uncertain future, he and others like him are keeping the dream alive by continuing to do what astronauts and all scientists do: constantly asking questions. What a stupendous waste it will be if we let this collective bundle of energy and human spirit go for naught.

And with that, I'll leave you with this brilliant 45-minute visual feast of the space shuttle on its way off the pad. I dare you not to marvel as you sit and watch, agog and wide-eyed, at the ingenuity it took to make this peculiar bird fly up, up, and away. &infin

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