Back to the FutureEndeavour is gone from Kennedy Space Center for good. It dredges up reminders of the end of the Space program in America. To me, it’s like Back to the Future. We’ve been here before. Instead of launching our astronauts into space using our own technology, we’ve relegated them to the antique rocketry on the other side of the plan owned by people who could never catch Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Not only is that embarrassing, it’s a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars. Those orbiters were designed to fly about 142 missions into space. Then again, they were also supposed to fly about 50 missions per year. Never got even close to that kind of schedule. So while the orbiters were never used as often as anticipated, they were only intended to fly for 15 years. We kept extending their lifespan, but not their usage.
I watched the first launch of Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1) as a guest of the US Air Force. My Boy Scout troop was camping in the wilderness survival area of Patrick Air Force Base. The AF folks were kind enough to load us all on a bus and take us closer to view the launch. Mind you, we were pretty excited to go see this puppy launch, since it was something new. As it creeped up into the sky, I couldn’t help but think “Damn, this thing is slow!“Compared to the Apollo missions on Saturn V rockets, the Shuttle was a lumbering space truck. Of course, a space truck was exactly what we needed.
The thing that people need to remember is something I’ve often heard commented in the Defense industry. Programs end. Nothing is meant to live forever, and programs rarely have the life that their creators envisioned. So now our Shuttle Orbiters will end up like this lunar lander — mounted on display as part of our history, places were we travel back in time and reminisce about the good ol’ days. Once we remember that some of those good ol’ days weren’t always as good as we remembered, then it’s time to get back to the future.
It’s just that nobody told us the future would be a place where we dropped the ball and let someone else pick up the lead.