The irony of our fizzling space program

Oh, the irony.

After Friday�s scheduled final space shuttle launch (if the weather allows) the only way astronauts from the United States � make that astronauts from any nation on earth � can get to the international space station is in a Soyuz space capsule.

Launched from Russia.

You know, the country once known as the Soviet Union that got Americans all gung-ho about space to begin with by launching Sputnik over five decades ago.

The country that �lost� the race to the moon is dominant in space once again. And, for the present time at least, everything our nation�s space program has accomplished seems to be cast aside.

We soon will be grounded once again. And suddenly, it seems, Russia, like Charlie Sheen, is �winning.�

We are about to enter an era that is the antithesis of the space race�s glory days. What transpired in the 1960s was one technological leap after the other, both in our country and the USSR as the two nations were locked in a race to the moon. We watched men cram themselves into tiny capsules to be literally catapulted into space on top of a relatively simple booster rocket.

As time went on, as we learned more and more about space flight and as the deadline set by President Kennedy for a lunar landing before the end of the 1960s was growing near, Americans were reminded of the wonderful things our nation can accomplish when we�re focused and united.

The Apollo technology was something that literally seemed out of this world. And that�s where it ultimately took us. I remember the euphoria of that time � the sense that, yes, we would be benefiting from similar technology in our lifetimes.

George Jetson and his flying car may have been the product of a cartoonist�s wild imagination. The notion of us all living a Jetson-like lifestyle someday, jetting about in our own flying cars � seemed highly probable when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon.

It didn�t take long for reality to set in, however. We won the space race in 1969. And with each flight to the moon after that, America�s interest in space seemed to decline more and more. The best the U.S. could do in the early 1960s was place a tiny manned capsule in earth orbit for a few hours, and we were in awe.

A decade later, we were sending two-man crews to the surface of the moon where they conducted experiments, gathered moon rocks, drove around in rovers and then successfully returned home.

Our reaction? Yawn.

I�m guessing, therefore, that after Friday, we Americans won�t get too worked up over the fact that until our next manned space vehicle is designed and rolled onto a launch pad (and who knows when that may happen) our presence in space will be greatly diminished.

One can sense the rather blas� attitude we�ve adopted about space flight in recent years just from watching a shuttle launch on television.

Back in the old days, when each mission seemed to have a purpose to it, the announcement of a liftoff was straightforward. You know, no nonsense: �Liftoff, we have liftoff of Apollo 11.� Period. It was simple, and just stated the facts.

The shuttle liftoff announcements, however, have always bugged me. It�s as if NASA has always tried to justify its actions each time one of them roars into space from the launch pad.

Here�s a list of several announcements compiled by Chris Gebhardt, a space shuttle watcher-blogger nerd guy, over on the NASA Space Flight Forum:

Stupidest liftoff statement ever: STS-99 � "…and liftoff of Space Shuttle Endeavour, on a 21st century mission to put Earth back on the map."

STS-107 � "and liftoff of Columbia with a multitude of national and international science experiments."

STS-114 � "and liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery, beginning America's new journey to the moon, mars, and beyond."

STS-121 � "and liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery, returning to the Space Station � paving the way for future missions and beyond."

STS-115 � "and liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis, opening a new chapter in the completion of the International Space Station for the collaboration of nations in space."

STS-116 � "and liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery, lighting up the night sky as we continue building the international space station.

STS-117 � "and Liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis, to assemble the framework for the science laboratories of tomorrow!"

STS-118 � "…and liftoff of Space Shuttle Endeavour, expanding the International Space Station while creating a classroom in space."

STS-120 � "…and liftoff Discovery, hoisting harmony to the heavens and opening new doorways for international science."

STS-122 � "and liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis as Columbus sets sail on a voyage of science to the space station."

STS-123 � "and liftoff of Space Shuttle Endeavour, going where East and West do meet at the International Space Station."

STS-124 � "…and liftoff of Shuttle Discovery, Ganbatte kudasai — best of luck to the International Space Station's newest laboratory."

STS-126 � "…and liftoff of Space Shuttle Endeavour, preparing our home in space for a larger, international family."

STS-119 � "…and liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery, taking the Space Station to full power for full science."

STS-125 � "…and liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the final visit to enhance the vision of Hubble into the deepest grandeur of our universe."

Should the weather allow Friday�s launch, I hope the announcer at Mission Control will be realistic and simply say, �We have a shuttle liftoff. For the last time.�

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