Today, the Space Shuttle Discovery, flew from The Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to its new home in Washington D.C., at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
With the end of the shuttle program in 2011, I find myself in a place I haven’t been since I was an 11 year old boy in 1961. And that is, a world where America has no way to launch her astronauts into orbit or space, and once again, it is Russia who has taken the lead. For me, this is not just about a temporary vehicular handicap, but the loss of an important inspirational component of national life and identity.
I’ll never forget that day in April of 1961, when Yuri Gagarian took the first manned spaceflight, quickly followed by our own Alan Shepard. My imagination soared. Their heroic missions, and all those that followed – especially the inevitable idea of going to the Moon – made something swell in my heart. These men and women represented the highest dreams and aspirations of our species. It was not just our communal spirit of exploration, but our yearning to be united in common purpose, rising above ideological, regional, and national fractures that symbolized something deep and vitally important in those days. I felt bigger than myself, part of a grand adventure, part of a movement that aspired to rise above our individual limitations and lift everyone, all over the world, to a higher level of consciousness and being. I have grieved at the shutdown of the shuttle program and the deferment of our national aspirations for space and the research and collateral knowledge it brings. And sad, especially, that the reason for this is the completely misguided and diastrous political policy of an administration that lied to the American people about the most basic truths, and squandered so many lives and so much national treasure, that we may be a generation digging ourselves out of this hole.
From the Mercury program, to Gemini, to Apollo to the Shuttle and Space Station, our dreams and better selves, flew with them. Here are a few pictures commemorating this most recent link in the long and hopefully, only delayed, history of manned space flight.
As Neil Armstrong said, ” That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant step for mankind.” The faster we can get back to this ennobling exploration of space and our universe, where our imaginations, and collective humanity soar, the better for us all.