The Space Shuttle: first thoughts on the end of an era

Second in a series.

I just watched the space shuttle Atlantis take flight for the last time, and I’m trying to figure out why I feel so much like I did after my grandfather died.

Is it because so much of my life has been defined by my attitude towards space exploration, and because the space shuttle symbolized that?

Is it because the first shuttle went up when I was eight, I saw Challenger blow up at 13, saw Columbia break up on reentry when I was 30, and have now lived to see the end of American space flight for the foreseeable future at the age of 38?

Is it because I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid and now I can’t?

Is it because my son, who dreams of being an astronaut himself someday, might not have that chance?

Is it because I’ve spent the last seven years working at an aerospace company that has put satellites on the shuttle, built parts of the shuttle, built instruments and experiments that the shuttle ferried back and forth to orbit, and I’m affected by the institutional memory of both horror and glory?

Is it because my children, who watched their first and last shuttle launch this morning, might grow up in a world where the hope and promise represented by NASA’s manned space program might not be replaced?

Or am I grieving for a country that has so lost its way that it can’t seem to feel wonder at the universe or hope for the future, a future symbolized by NASA’s manned space program?

All of that and more.

Image Credit: NASA TV