Six of my colleagues and I took a break from our meeting yesterday to go out by the track field, standing in the shade to escape the 92° noon-day sun, hoping that we’d see something amid the buildings and trees. We got lucky, as the pilot made not one, but two passes directly over us. The first fly-over acknowledged the California Science Center, the Endeavor’s ultimate destination and retirement home immediately to the south of the campus, and the second began the flight path to LAX.
As I watched the actual landing on TV, I remembered watching the first shuttle landing, the Columbia’s on April 14, 1981. I was on a university campus then, too, I realized: standing with a crush of other students and faculty in a common area at Georgetown Law’s McDonough Hall. As we loudly cheered the landing together, those of us present were bonded with a great sense of pride.
Listening to the comments of the others as we waited, it seems that for many, they wanted to watch this because it would their closest, and last, opportunity to see in person a shuttle in flight, although not on its own steam. For me who grew up wanting to be an astronaut, it was more like paying respects to the passing funeral cortege, the Endeavor borne as if on a caisson, with two escort planes on either side, like honor guards. It was saying goodbye to our manned space program. As the shuttle fleet has been dismantled and parceled out across the country over the past several months, I have been quietly outraged that we would mothball the shuttle program without a successor program. We might have put the first man on the moon, but now the Russians and perhaps others will carry on manned space flight.
I was proud for everyone, including my dad, who has made our manned space program what it is. I was sad for what it has become.