Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Returning to the Final Frontier

This morning, I was able to experience something I haven't felt for over fifteen years. While driving to work, I was able to hear, live on the radio, the launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

As is well-known by now, this is the first launch of a US space shuttle since the destruction of the Columbia about 2 and a half years ago. The wait between launches compares to the extended delay following the destruction of Challenger in 1986 which, coincidentally, also ended with a Discovery launch. While the launch of the space shuttle in the early '80s was always a major event, accessible via substantial news coverage, shuttle launches quickly became more "routine" and less of an "event" not long after the recovery from the Challenger disaster.

It may be that shuttle launches fall back into this "routine" pattern again within a few months, provided, of course, that this mission is a success and there are no further catastrophes in the near future. However, given the current administration's push toward a return to the moon, with the intension of eventually traveling to Mars, it may be the era of "routine" orbital flights is tapering off, and future launches from NASA will, again, become major events.

Time will tell.

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