For those of us who have grown up with the space program, yesterday was a sad day. The shuttle Atlantis blasted off on it's final mission. There will be two more - one by Endeavor, the other Discovery. Then it's over. Thirty years of thrills and chills. Over. We leave manned space to others. Personally, I think Obama's aim for Mars is less than visionary but rather an offhanded slap at the exceptional accomplishments of the U.S. space program.
Maybe you had to grow up with it. Remember the competition between the Soviets and ourselve? Do you remember the name of the first satellite? Sputnik. Russian. Remember the awe that was inspired by the first chimpanzee in space? Ham. Then the first man. A man! A Russian. Do you remember the name? I do. Yuri Gargarin. John Glenn was our first orbiter. Then the moon landing and the exploration that followed. Our national pride couldn't be contained.
Back in those days the names of the astronauts were as well know as the tabloid stars are today. I remember most of them. How many current astonauts can you name?
The program was not without tragedy. The loss of Gus Grisson, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in a pre-launch test. The nation mourned but the program continued.
The Challenger with the first teacher on board was next then the Columbia. Again the nation mourned yet the program continued. We still have the unbelievable Hubble telescope and the Mars rovers to brag about. Both succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. And the shuttle. The old reliable work horse that repaired satelites and shuttled crews and supplies to and from the space station as it was being built.
It is all being left to others. No more will we watch, fascinated, as crew members would leave the safe confines of the ship to do their daring space walks. No more will we be witness to the corny jokes between Houston and the crews. No more of those spectacular pictures of earth that were so often beamed back. No more.
It is ironic to me that the lead now returns to the Russians. Our astronauts will be hitching rides with them. Space. The final frontier, to borrow a phrase. And we're relinquishing our lead in manned participation to others. This administration seems determined to be the great equalizer. The country I grew up in is slowly changing in character. We're no longer the leader of the pack. We're edging ever closer to being the outcast. A lonely, ostricized figment of what had once been the envy of the world. Even Russia.