Sunday, 10 July 2011

This Must Not Be the End

Bugger the cost I should have gone; a Shuttle launch was one of the things I had always wanted to experience, and now I won't be able too. Atlantis' flight marks the end of a launch program almost as old as me. The shuttle never became the cheap launch vehicle intended, a reusable  craft with up to two launches a week bringing space flight to the many. It was flawed, expensive, and certainly not carbon neutral, but Fu**ing Hell it's impressive

Atlantis' penultimate launch in HD, footage all the way to main tank separation and orbit.

Some people have argued the whole thing was a waste of money because it cost 100's of billions and failed to deliver enough reward. Looking at the picture taken be the Hubble Space Telescope I would disagree, but that's beside the point. 

We have only been a space faring species for about 50 years, and really have only just dipped our toes in an ocean of possibility. The shuttle missions are about exploration not cold hard cost benefit analysis.  Some people may explore in the hope of making their fortunes but the majority I think do so from a desire for knowledge, or simply because of Mallory's dictum "Because it's there". The value of discovery may not be easily quantified at first, it took 450 years from the discovery of the Americas until the USA became the most powerful and richest nation on Earth.

Atlantis and her sisters stand at the end of a long line of ships of exploration, the Santa Maria, Golden Hind, Terror, Erebus, Nimrod, Terra Nova, Enterprise, and Fram to name but a few.  Three of the shuttles take their names from exploration ships of the Royal Navy, Discovery, Endeavor, and Challenger taking up the baton from a history of which we in Britain should be rightly proud.

From the deck of HMS Endeavor looking out at the shores of newly discovered Australia, to the flight deck of OV Endeavor looking down from hundreds of miles on the continents and oceans of the world the same spirit runs. I think the men and women of both ships would understand each other.

There is something wonderfull about the human psyche that makes us not be able to see a mountain without thinking what lies over it's ridges, a river without thinking where it rises, or an ocean without wondering what lies beyond the horizon. Cook, Scott, Polo, Gagarin, and Armstrong all had this desire.

Fourteen men and women, like hundreds of sailors and explorers before them paid the ultimate price for taking a step into the unknown. Without their sacrifice and the desire to see what lies beyond we would still be a pathetic species living in caves. 

Atlantis' last flight must not be the end.

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