Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Houston, We've Got a Problem

With the landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery last month, the controversial Space Shuttle program will end.  There are only two flights left.  Then the question is – what to do with the remaining space shuttles – Endeavor, Atlantis, and the prototype Enterprise.

Twenty-one cities are vying for these three craft.  The Discovery is going to the Smithsonian, as well it should.  But what to do with the Endeavor, Atlantis, and the prototype Enterprise?   Two of the sites vying for these ships are the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Florida.  I have a better question:  why are these two sites even being forced to compete for the shuttles.  One ought to go to Florida and the other to Houston.  The only shuttle that should be up for grabs is the remaining third shuttle.

Cape Canaveral and the Space Center in Houston were where all the action happened.  New York Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand was pitching for one of the shuttles to be brought to New York City.  Why, for heaven’s sake?  New York City in no way figured in the space shuttle’s history.  If the third shuttle, whichever one it is, should go anywhere, it should either go to the Boeing plant in Washington, or in Seattle itself, where the shuttle was made, or to Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, the shuttle’s alternate landing site.

How hard is it to do the math?  Or the geography?  One shuttle would be in Washington, in the Northeast, one in the south (Florida), one in the west (Texas), and another also either in the west (southern California) or Northwest (Seattle).  If two of the birds hadn’t blown up, the Midwest would have its shuttle and another to spare.  There’d be a shuttle for everyone.

The tragedies with the Challenger and the Columbia should have taught us that the shuttles are no mere tourist attractions, brining money and tax revenues to their host cities.  Cities should not be squabbling or vying for them in an auction.  They belong where they made history, at least here on earth.

The Space Shuttle Program was a costly experiment in human space flight.  Engineers have concluded that it’s safer and less expensive to send up automated space flights that can record the data for us and act us probes to tell us what we’re getting into before we actually get out there.

Sooner or later, space flight will become not only inevitable but imperative.  Someone had to take that brave, first step to get us out there.  Their sacrifices should not be wasted in a dithering reluctance to go back.  But using common sense and finding out what’s out there first would lessen the chances of sacrificing more lives before we know what we’re doing, where we’re going, or how we’re going to get there.

Space is the final frontier and our last hope of escaping what appears to be inevitable tyranny here on earth.  Right now, a successor to the space shuttle could only serve as a lifeboat.  Finding a habitable planet in an immense galaxy that scientists tell us is speeding away from us is like finding a four-leave clover.  We might be forced to pitch a space tent somewhere until we can figure out what to do.  For the time being, if we do return to human space exploration, the trips will be more like extended overnight camping trips rather than permanent settlements.
Meanwhile, as the Space Shuttle program draws to a close, let us remember all those who volunteered to ride to the stars, knowing the dangers and succumbing to them, but leaving us a legacy of courage.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13, deemed a “successful failure.”  Let us remember the memorable quote from the film, “Apollo 13.”

“Failure is not an option.”


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