This morning, the Space Shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a Boeing 747, made a fly-by over the Washington, DC area on its way to Dulles Airport and eventual permanent display as part of the Smithsonian Institute's air and space collection.
Rummaging around my old photos this morning, I found the shot (left) of a scene almost identical to the one many Washington area residents had this morning. Except it is a photo I took from my backyard in Kensington, Maryland over 30 years ago.
Then, the Space Shuttle program was brand-new. We had sent a man to the moon, public interest in space exploration was at a low point, and now it was time to see if we could run a space program more like a business than a grand adventure.
Well, maybe not so much a big mistake, but a bad strategy because it lowered our expectations and our interest in the possibilities that lay out there waiting for us to regain the vision of exploration.
Sending teams of Shuttle astronauts back and forth into low Earth orbit became routinized. This hazardous work - evidenced by two lost Shuttle crews to disaster - produced modest gains in space technology (not the least of which was the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope) and technologies with practical applications on Earth.
But it was less than what it could have been - or should have been. Humanity's destiny is not just here on this planet, but out there. We should have been on Mars already. We should have already established permanent bases on the Moon.
I certainly appreciate the pull and tug of other priorities - such as fighting unnecessary wars, giving tax cuts to the rich and the many things that actually make people's lives better. After all, we have to watch every penny - actually, we have to watch every half a penny - $0.005 - which is the portion of every federal tax dollar to goes to fund our entire space exploration budget.
But we also must have goals that are largest than the here and now. With the end of the Space Shuttle program,
's astronaut and space flight program is largely dismantled. If Americans want to go into space, they will have to hitch a ride with the Russians, or buy a ticket from Space X or Richard Branson. America
We must do better than that. We must learn to once again reach for heavens.