I know, I know. I can hardly believe it, either. After an impressive 25 flights that spanned an equally impressive 22-year career and 123 million miles; after endless parades and flyovers and misty-eyed rooftop adieus, the hulking Endeavour has finally made it to its new home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
And it’s about damn time. Can we all move on, now?
Not to say the craft wasn’t deserving of such a high-profile, drawn-out sendoff. The shuttle was a good thing. The shuttle made possible innumerable contributions to manned space exploration, generated thousands of jobs and, in what’s perhaps its most enduring legacy, inspired generations of starry-eyed youth to look upward and believe that the impossible simply isn’t. And the shuttle continues to do so – I’d be lying if I said that photo of Angeleno school children geeking over Endeavour’s recent flyover isn’t enough to give even the most dejected of cynics some modicum of hope for humanity.
To not eulogize and bury our cosmic dead with such fanfare, then, would be an utter failure not only for humanity. It would be a failure for the U.S., the future of whose space program, it seems, has become synonymous with Endeavour’s end.
The persistence of this thinking is unfortunate. A nostalgia for the golden age of U.S. space flight has attended all the parades and flyovers. To an extent this is OK, I guess – even if supposed landslide public opinions and positive perceptions of manned American space flight, not least the hand Endeavour played in that so-called golden age, are largely myths. But when it enters the realm of endless hand-wringing over “the fall of a once-mighty NASA,” well, that’s just sad. (Even sadder: That the final dozen miles of Endeavour’s LA crawl were brought to you in part by a marketing ploy for the Toyota Tundra, which pulled the behemoth to its final resting place.) With far too much of the general, tax-paying public still seemingly incapable of looking forward (or rather, upward, again), this insistent and distraught looking-back serves only to obscure all the amazing things NASA and a burgeoning private space-flight sector are up to. The time of Endeavour-mourning should’ve died some time ago. Can it officially die now?
Full disclosure: I do research for a NASA-backed start-up incubator. So maybe my opinions are a bit skewed, here. I don’t know. But I think we can all agree that the successes of space exploration, and all the attending research and science that goes into these efforts, hinge upon a relentless drive forward, the good ‘ol days be damned. It always has. And the longer we lament the shuttle being put to bed the less justice we give to the certifiably mind-blowing fact that this very second there’s a drone scuttling around Mars. I could go on with other kickass projects underway at the moment, but I don’t I have to. You get the point.
So godspeed, Endeavour. And good riddance.
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Reach this writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. @thebanderson