This morning, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery took one last flight. Mated on top of a specially-adapted 747, it flew from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Dulles airport just west of Washington DC. My brother-in-law works in DC and got this phenomenal shot of it: Discovery’s ultimate destination is the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex outside of DC. It will be put on display for people to see, which is nice, if bittersweet. I have mixed emotions about all this. Discovery is special to me; it was the only Shuttle I saw launch live, in 1997, when it carried a camera I helped build up to Hubble Space Telescope. And of course, for decades the Shuttles were the main rocket fleet of NASA. But they were expensive, and had a host of other problems (I enumerate many in an article I wrote for the NY Post). I really wish we had stuck with Werner von Braun’s plan to keep building bigger and better rockets, back when the Saturn V was thundering into the sky and it looked like we’d be walking on Mars by the 1980s. But that future didn’t happen. We made that shining tomorrow into the somewhat drab today, where shifting political winds – both inside and exterior to NASA itself – have had us going around in circles for 30 years. Still… sometimes that wind blows fresh. We’re still exploring the solar system, still looking up. Hubble’s still going strong with its 22nd anniversary next week. We have rovers on Mars, a spacecraft around Saturn, another on its way to Jupiter, and yet another orbiting the asteroid Vesta while setting its sights to move on to Ceres soon. Space X is about to launch its first rocket to the space station. But all of this is still fragile, still tentative, still threatened. We need a far, far stronger presence in space. If you’re a US citizen, let your Senators and Representative know you support a strong space effort. Also, listen to Bill Nye who has something to say about all this as well. I know there’s a wave of support for space exploration. People want to touch the sky; as my brother-in-law wrote me about the Discovery flyby today, “Every building that had roof access was full, maintenance folks had ‘jobs’ to do on the roof between 10 and 11.” They wanted to be a part of that piece of history. Always remember: Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
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