The Last of the Final Frontier

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The final launch of the space shuttle has passed without incident. It’s the last time the U.S. will ever launch humans above the atmosphere. While the cuts and retirement make fiscal sense, I can’t help but feel disappointment for the loss. A the Washington Post so eloquently points out, we were wrong about the future.

Be an astronaut? That’s become somehow – antiquated, like dreaming of being a telephone operator or a vaudevillian. That’s what the future looked like before we knew what the future really looked like. It’s of a piece with the flying cars and food pills and personal jetpacks. The future turned out to be celebrity tabloids and magical personal screens and the continuation of old feuds, not mankind suddenly clasping hands and setting its sights for the beyond. And perhaps we should have expected that.

What’s most astonishing to me is how NASA failed to come up with something better for over 30 years. Now that’s left in the hands of the private sector, which looks pretty sluggish right now. The best designs still fall short of NASA’s achievements in the ’60s, and most are pursuing the tenuous business plan of offering billionaire joyrides. If anyone can still push the envelope, my bet would be on Burt Rutan and Richard Branson, but their Virgin Galactic venture hasn’t produced anything since 2004. That’s 7 years of development, which is reasonable for a product of such magnitude. But in 8 years, NASA went from Shepard to Armstrong without any modern technology. The fact remains that national pride and military budgets are the fastest way to achieve greatness, especially in aviation. I can only hope that the next 30 years don’t see us abandoning space exploration once and for all.

Also, it might be a great time to buy LEGO City’s Space Shuttle, though it pales in comparison to older sets like 10213 and the classic 1682.

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