Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 15, 2010

     The space shuttle Atlantis is taking more astronauts to the International Space  Station.  This is the last flight for Atlantis, the third-from-last for the U.S. manned spaceflight program.       I was a reporter at Mission Control, just outside Houston, on June 20, 1969.  I still remember the excitement the people in Mission Control felt--the excitement we reporters felt--when we heard Neil Armstrong say, "The Eagle has landed," and then, when he stepped on the moon, "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."      But was it?   No other nation followed us to the moon, and we cut our own Apollo program short.  Armstrong's was Apollo 11. The last, I think, was Eugene Cernan's Apollo 17 in 1972;  18, 19 and 20 were scrubbed--to save money, as I recall.      Now here we are again.  After Atlantis, we'll have two more missions to the Space Station, and that's it.  An astronaut or two may hitchhike out there on a Russian craft, but the US manned program will, to put it simply, end.   There's talk, of course, about new rockets somewhere down the road, rockets which could land on asteroids or on Mars. But that's just talk.  New rockets are not being built.       Going further in space would cost billions.  Is it worth it, compared with spending those billions to fight hunger and disease at home?  Good question.       But Mars would have been something quite wonderful, don't you think? 
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