Last Flight of the Space Shuttle

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.

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21 Comments on "Last Flight of the Space Shuttle"

  1. sulky kitten says:

    Yes David, it’s the end of an era. It would be easier to swallow if they at least had a replacement of some kind to keep both hope and interest alive.

    • David Leeds says:

      I know. They can’t agree on or get properly funded, the replacement. It was originally scheduled for 2016, but I believe that is now doubtful. P.S. I also hear , on the QT, that there was a switch at the last minute, and that the original first being in space was supposed to be a cat. What do you know about this. ( The truth is out there.)

  2. Kathy says:

    It is sad, and it makes me sick to contemplate all the money and lives wasted on wars we had no business being in. I’ve always loved the space program and all the mystery, fantasy, and national pride that it engendered. It’s an end to an era that I grew up with – very sad indeed.

  3. Helen says:

    Cannot say it better than Kathy did. I spent my growing up winters in Florida and the excitement was tremendous. I am of the same era as you, David…an exciting time that seemed to be filled with promise…not (endless) wars. Space exploration is/was so dear to my heart! Monkeys, dogs, squirrels and rats went before humans but I didn’t know about cats! I remember the dog the Russians sent up that didn’t come back alive.

    • David Leeds says:

      No Helen, there were no cats – just a little joke for my earlier commentor’s benefit.
      I was glued to my TV set for every launch that was broadcast. I never became inured to the magic of it.

  4. mette says:

    I guess, that it does not come as a surprise, that I can´t relate to the excitement of the space research programs taken place in USA and the former USSR, being so young at the time, and mainly – being a girl.
    If this world were an ideal world, I´d be excited if all countries ( those who are able ) would join their forces and search the universe side by side.
    This could never happen, I am aware of it. Is it because boys are boys – always?
    Kathy mentioned the wars, and it surprises me too, that where/whenever in the world there is a conflict, US is sooner than later, mixed in it.
    What an enormous amount of lives lost, and money wasted in the endless conflicts.
    I know, I am here quite privileged to express my perky opinions, living in a country, which – at least for now – is not mixed in either operations ; ).

    • David Leeds says:

      Mette, as you so wisely said, boys will be boys. I don’t think there is any question that my gender has been responsible for many adolescent explosions of hormones wrecked on the world stage. The space program did, however, excite many women in this country, and not just the few who went on to become astronauts. It was a genuine source of pride and wonder for a large swathe of the American population. And something that many of us hoped would break down national boundaries and help unite people.

  5. Dear David,

    I hope that you and your readers have seen the wondrous photographs coming from The Hubell (hope I spelled it right), Telescope, which sits in space capturing the miracles of the beautiful galaxies of which ours is a part, and looking far back into the history of the formation of the universe. Nova has had several shows in which one can view these sights. They raise my sensibilities to the highest levels, as I imagine they do to most others. How can we abandon our search into what exists, particularly into that which we do not yet know or understand? I hope that in some way this new trend of holding spending will be reversed. We have gleaned so much useful information for our own world by previous voyages. It is not as if money and efforts have been without a due reward. Meanwhile, I pray that when we die we may know the secrets of all that we perceive and of all that we do not yet perceive. Sincerely, Linda

  6. Hi David, this is my new name (formerly Susan Tiner). I’m gradually catching up on blogs after our big trip, the wedding, etc.

    This post is beautifully written. I got a little teary reading it.

    Mette, I was a young American girl inspired by the space program. There were quire a few of us actually.

    • David Leeds says:

      It is a moving event for me as well. I was so caught up in everything space as a kid. It continued with my interest in astronomy and cosmology now. You might enjoy my Star Trek post as well.

  7. Lilia says:

    “but the loss of an important inspirational component of national life and identity.” Indeed, actually I am still counting on them that its not really the end of this era. We can still make it , to prove that its not the last flight but indeed another start for a journey in the future.

    To visit my blog, kindly click here.

  8. when I mention the word “shuttle” it’s seems to me “shut up” !

  9. good job if it’s the last fly ! I am a jobless,homeless and between people of the lie and misery ! better setting up the deals in earth than spending billions money for your perverse thoughts and hi tech ! I wonder what do you want with the deals of God !

  10. my best record was flying around the world with the speed of light but joining the moon is your business !

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Sculptor, painter, poet. Currently living in Los Angeles and Martha's Vineyard