I am on a Delta flight from SFO to DTW. Fortunately, the plane is equipped with Wi-Fi, so I was able to watch Space Shuttle Discovery‘s final landing on NASA TV. And honestly, this picture perfect farewell is stirring up a mix of emotions and reactions.
I remember as a teen back in the 80’s reading up on everything I could find about the Shuttle fleet as they were being built. I still remember the reaction at seeing a picture of a Shuttle piggy-backed on a Boeing 747 for the first time. I remember exactly where I was (in a taxi in Manchester, England) back in 1986 when we heard about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and the exhilaration listening live to Discovery triumphantly reinvigorate the program two years later with mission STS-26. And I recall the horrible sense of déjà vu when Columbia disintegrated upon reentry in 2003, and the similar nervous tension three years later when again Discovery led the way back to space with mission STS-116. And I know I am not alone, millions have the same emotional attachment to an amazing and awe-inspiring machine.
And the emotions? Pride, exhilaration, awe … and at the same time some real anger and disappointment. Honestly, it feels like we’ve lost the desire to do big bold things, we take Shuttle missions and Space Stations and frequent satellite launches for granted, we’ve grown jaded and uninspired. And worst of all, we’ve lost the healthy curiosity needed to be able to literally aim for the stars. How many kids nowadays want to grow up to be an astronaut?
Realistically, these days we’d never be able to pull off anything as grand and as ambitious as the Space Shuttle program. The public has lost interest and so there is no political will to think big. Considering the huge advances in technology since the Shuttles were conceived and built, we should be planning huge leaps forward in space exploration and associated sciences. But, no, instead we’re having to fight for attention and relevance. I’m sad, disappointed, and yes, angry.
So, welcome home Discovery, farewell, and thank you for 27 inspiring years. And here’s hoping that at some point in the future we’ll once again find the passion, the curiosity, and the willpower to do the impossible and inspire a generation.