Tomorrow at 11:26am EDT the last shuttle will make its last journey into orbit. With this launch comes the beginning of the end for America's involvement in manned space flight for the foreseeable future. STS-135 will be the final mission of a program that began its infancy as I was coming into this world and took to the skies as I was just beginning to come into my own. As a boy I watched, from my roof, as the shuttle Enterprise flew overhead atop a 747. It was coming into Tulsa as part of its final assembly and I was in awe. Excited by just the sight, even high in the sky. Since then I have watched or read about most of the many missions each shuttle has flown since April 12th, 1981.
I've lived through both of the great tragedies of the program. The first as a high school student sitting in my typing class ubable to digest the news delivered by a bewildered Principle. The second as an adult waking up to terrible news of destruction I, as was true of so many others, thought would never happen again. .
I'm passionate about space. I believe in the manifest destiny of man conquering the heavens and taking humanity to the stars. The shuttle program wasn't a tool towards that end, but it was a huge step forward. The shuttle helped give birth to the Hubble telescope, unlocking many of the mysteries of the cosmos. The shuttle helped give birth to the International Space Station, which will help unlock many of the mysteries closer to home.
Americans will continue to journey into space, but for some time to come they will not launch from the Kennedy Space Center. Our friends around the world will join together in Russia, ironically, to make the trek to Earth's orbit.
NASA isn't going anywhere, and I know they still plan missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. I hope that I will live to see man walk on a planet not our own. I hope, maybe wrongly, that the man or woman that does set foot on alien soil comes from America, flying a ship of American design, built by American hands. Not because we are better; but to best honor the dream that began in the early '60's, blossomed to reality in 1969 and pushed man forward ever since.
The dream isn't dead. The dream lives on in people around the world. Many of them will watch the shuttle rise gloriously into the sky tomorrow and think to themselves, "One day man will walk among the stars as he now walks upon the Earth." So, as I think on it more this isn't the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning.
To the Shuttle Atlantis and the crew of STS-135 - God's speed and a safe journey.