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Coming Home
Author: BobR    Date: 04/18/2012 11:36:59

When I was a youngster, the Cold War was still frigid as ever, color TVs were still called "color TVs", and NASA was full of rock stars. Every launch was national news and all 3 (count 'em - 3) national TV networks carried it all in breathless detail. We were in a race to beat the Russians to the moon. They had beat us into space (on several milestones), and we were not about to allow a Russian moon to look down upon us from the nighttime sky.

I don't remember the Mercury or Gemini projects much, but I do remember Apollo. I watched the first lunar landing on our new color TV, which was a bit ironic since the footage was all in black & white.

I got into model rocketry, and learned all kinds of scientific stuff, like "center of gravity -vs- center of pressure", and "pitch, yaw, and roll", and the parabolic curve of a non-powered trajectory due to gravity. I was 10 years old. I launched a rocket on the same day as the Apollo 15, and got a nifty certificate for it from the company that made the rocket kits. Decades later when the Apollo 13 movie was released, I met Flight Director Gene Kranz in person (he was cashing in on his 2nd 15 minutes of fame, bless him), and he signed that certificate.

Costs scuttled the Apollo program a bit prematurely, and it gave way to the Shuttle program. It was a great concept - essentially a transport vehicle for ferrying large pieces of equipment into space. It became clear early on that even though it looked like the kind of rocket that could land on Mars and take-off again, it could not and would not.

The first few launches brought back that old space pride, as the magnificent craft thundered skyward, riding a pillar of flame. TV stations stopped everything to show the take offs and landings, and we were now getting color video from space. It was a new world in space exploration, and things were looking up.

Except - like all things governmental, they require tax-payer money, and they need to justify the cost. With the country seemingly engaged in one expensive military entanglement after another, bridges falling into decline, economics out of whack, and an increasingly jaded American public, the appeal of spending that kind of money into essentially research lost its luster.

It didn't help that we lost two shuttles and their crew - one on take-off and the other on re-entry. People began to wonder if there was even a need for manned space travel, given the advances of robotics, and successes of unmanned aircraft exploring Mars and other parts of our solar system.

So - like Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury, the Space Shuttle program has been mothballed. All that remains is getting the shuttles themselves to their final resting places. As most you readers here already know, we got to see that yesterday.

Space Shuttle Discovery came "home" to DC, and will become a permanent part of the Smithsonian's Air and Space museum, housed out by Dulles airport. She was ferried on the back of a 747 (few people realized that the space shuttle was essentially a glider - the engines were only used during the initial liftoff).

It would have been very easy for NASA to simply transport Discovery up to the airport and plunk her down there. Instead, they treated everyone in the DC metro area to a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of the space shuttle taking a final victory lap (3 laps actually!) around the nation's capitol.

We never got a chance to see a launch. I had gone down years before, but questionable weather resulted in the launch being scrubbed. Thus, I felt we were extremely lucky enough to actually see the shuttle "in flight" on last time.


NASA is already at work on a replacement program, but it will be a few years before it's ready, barring extreme cutting from the bean counters on Capitol Hill. I look forward to the day we can once again look skyward and know that we have astronauts up there looking down on us from their American-made rocket.

34 comments (Latest Comment: 04/18/2012 21:01:59 by Mondobubba)
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