Tomorrow morning, the end of the end will begin for the Space Shuttle Discovery. Discovery will take her final flight, not as a spacecraft, but as cargo on Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, leaving Florida for the last time, headed to the National Air and Space Museum.
One of my SpaceTweep friends @msengupta, posted last week on her twitter feed, “Just got an E-mail that started w/ “On April 17, 2012 space shuttle Discovery departs KSC for the last time.” Hit me like a ton of bricks.” It’s funny how different people get hit by different things. I was really hit when they powered Discovery down for the last time. Though they had stopped making the external tanks that she needed to fly to orbit years ago, shutting down her systems for the final time when it really hit me. The end of the Space Shuttle program has been coming for a while. President Bush announced its cancellation in 2004, but for subsequent seven years there were flight. It somehow felt like ti wasn’t really over. On Sunday morning, Discovery was loaded on the SCA for her flight. Tomorrow morning, the SCA will take off, do a low slow flyby of the launch facilities at KSC and Discovery will never visit Florida again.
My son and I were playing with our Space Shuttles last week and I was talking about how the Shuttles were meant to fly. In his three-year old desire to assert his independence, he said that the shuttles were not meant to fly, they were meant to be on the ground. He was laughing and playing as he said this, not knowing that the truth of his words was eating me up inside. When the Shuttles were built, they were meant to fly. They were meant to transport people and cargo from earth to orbit. Their purpose was to physically go to the heavens and show us what could be done when we put our minds to it. They were the manifestation of the ‘You Put an X Anywhere in the Universe” spirit that the American people dearly believed.
Now, their purpose has changed. No longer will they physically take a small number of people to the heavens, rather they will serve as a beacon and example of what people can do. My son was right, the Space Shuttles are not meant to fly themselves any more, they are meant to help us fly ourselves. Their purpose is to inspire the rest of us to fly in our own way.
It’s true, tomorrow marks the start of the end of the end, but I hope it can be a beginning. I hope that the four orbiters, who will together be seen up close and in person by millions of people each year, will help humanity fly.