Well, I am sorry to see the final space shuttle visit to the International Space Station (ISS) come to a close this month. True, our astronauts will still be visiting via the Russians, but it won’t be the same as watching one of our beautiful shuttles dock there. Something will be missing when the ISS is mentioned in the future news. It’s a shame that we will have to hitch a ride.
I was fortunate enough to be working in the space industry when the whole thing was in it’s infancy. I was working at the Eglin Gulf Test Range when Russian Yuri Gagarian was the first man in space, followed by the first sub-orbital flight made by American Alan Shepard. It was only an up and down flight, but it was exciting. Then, we got further into the tiny Mercury space capsule flights with John Glenn, and the rest of the original group of astronauts. Gus Grissom had to be fished out of the ocean when the Liberty Bell 7 sank after a premature hatch opening. We eventually graduated on to bigger and better things with the Gemini and Apollo projects. Remember Apollo 11 and the moon landing? What a feeling of pride throughout the United States!
I was later transferred to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where development had begun on the “granddaddy of rockets”, the Saturn. My work was really insignificant in the grand picture of things going on there. However, I was able to meet the renown German rocket scientist, Dr. Werhner Von Braun, and some of his staff members. I was young and completely in awe meeting them, and everything happening around me. These guys taught us what rocketry was all about. I always considered myself lucky to have been able to witness this romantic era of the beginning of space travel.
So now we have a big, beautiful space station in orbit around our great planet earth. Many countries have participated in it’s construction, and is a symbol of world unification. It will serve as a stopover for future space travelers on their way to explore other planets, moons, and asteroids. It will allow experiments, and research for medical cures, new products for easier living, and potentially provide an insight on the beginning of our universe. Many people think this is all unimportant and a waste of money which could be used to better things in our earthly life. But, I think exploration is needed to assure our earthly life for our children, and their children, and many generations to come. Sure, we are starting to think “green” and conserve our resources, and sure, we are beginning to seek alternative forms of energy, but we always need new knowledge about our way of life as humans. As a result of some of the space effort, we are beginning to find new cures for diseases, new ways of improving food sources, and new technological advances for our digital age.
I say well done to NASA, and our ending space shuttle program. Well done to all the devoted personel having worked on it, and the brave group of shuttle astronauts. Well done to those astronauts who gave their lives for mankind’s betterment, along with the school teacher just wanting to open up the world for her students. I have been able to see several liftoffs, and everyone gave me goosebumps as the big rocket fired up.
To you, future crews of the International Space Station, it’s all yours. Keep providing us with valuable data, and research, on what’s happening out there. The human race may someday need it to survive. Keep that docking hatch well maintained, because the United States will be back with newer and better vehicles. God Speed ISS!