Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Discovery makes final flight but to D.C. not space

Yesterday, the space shuttle Discovery left Florida for Washington, D.C., to be delivered to the Smithsonian. It made for a spectacular event, as ABC News on YouTube shows.

As exhilarating and historic as yesterday was, it was a bittersweet day for NASA employees and space enthusiasts alike, as Reuters explains.
"It's sad to see this happening," said NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, a member of Discovery's final crew. "But you look at it and you just can't help but be impressed by it. That's my hope now, that every time someone looks at that vehicle they are impressed, that they feel that this is what we can do when we challenge ourselves."

For its last ride, Discovery took off not from its seaside launch pad but atop a modified Boeing 747 carrier jet that taxied down the Kennedy Space Center's runway at dawn. The shuttle's tail was capped with an aerodynamically shaped cone and its windows were covered.

"It's a very emotional, poignant, bittersweet moment," said former astronaut Mike Mullane, a veteran of three space shuttle missions. "When it's all happening you think, ‘This will never end,' but we all move on."
Yes, but are we moving on to a continued future in space? Peter Apps of Reuters wonders if the answer is no when he asks, "Is humanity quietly abandoning a future in space?"
As astronaut Leroy Chiao watches the space shuttles he crewed make their final journeys to become museum pieces, he worries humankind is unthinkingly ditching space exploration and a future beyond Earth.
"It's hard to escape the idea that we are going backwards," Chiao - a veteran of three shuttle missions and a trip to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket and now a private consultant and adviser to industry group the Space Foundation - told Reuters.

"I struggle to even think of it (the shuttle) in the past tense. It was a great vehicle."

With Russia's commitment to human spaceflight also seen wavering and some observers questioning whether even emerging powerhouse China will stick to its brashly self-confident plans, some begin to suspect the world is simply giving up.
I expressed my worries about this possibility just after Atlantis blasted off the final time in The end of an era: last space shuttle mission.
I would consider myself remiss if I didn't at least mention this story... After all, this blog is about both collapse, including decline, a leading indicator of collapse, and how to prevent it, and I examine these topics from a science fiction angle. I think few themes more exemplify civilizational decline in science fiction more than withdrawing from space, and those that do generally include loss of ability to travel off the planet.
I concluded the entry by quoting a lengthy description of the United States' continued efforts in space travel by the people in charge at NASA and the Obama Administration to point out that worriers (I'm not quite a pessimist) weren't entirely right, then capped it off with the following.
I hope they're right. Otherwise, the U.S. will be playing out one of the classic tragic technological decline scenarios from science fiction in real life.

ETA: There is cause for optimism in this week's space news, as the headline NASA clears SpaceX for cargo run to space station on Reuters shows. Here's to hoping everything goes well on April 30th. If it does, it will be a big step forward for manned space flight, as the same technology is intended to carry people into space in four or five years.

For today's song, I've decided to remember happier days in space flight from 30 years ago with Rush's "Countdown."


  1. I'm hopeful that business can (will) step into the void being left by governments.