Here’s an invitation I treasure: “On behalf of the Johnson Space Center Director, Mike Coats, it’s my pleasure to invite you and a guest to join us in viewing the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.” The invitation describes the final mission of STS-135 Atlantis to deliver supplies and services to the International Space Station (ISS) one last time on Friday, July 8, 2011. Our nation, and NASA, will continue to support the ISS through 2025. Let’s hope it is longer than that.
If you have not witnessed a Shuttle Launch and it is on your ‘Bucket List’ you better get going. You don’t need an invitation; there are many ways to watch this last launch. It is likely there will never be another system built that will have the capability the Shuttle has. It is time for it to be retired, true. Yet, I am grateful to the people who spent their career’s enabling our country to explore the universe, keep humans in space in some semblance of comfort and safety never before achieved by mankind. We as a nation can say with certainty, we enabled many nations to become space faring nations. We created one of the greatest powers ever developed by mankind, the power to go to space and return to earth routinely.
Looking into the future, the 2010 NASA Authorization act states the ISS will enable our country to have a permanent presence for long-duration in low-Earth orbit. The components of the ISS that belong to the US will be used as a National Laboratory, to help us develop commercial capability and presence in space. So to answer the question posed in Sound Off a couple of week ago, why are we sending marshmallows to space? There are many reasons humans explore. Why go anywhere, why try a new recipe? I cannot answer those questions with certainty. The students who flew the experiment wanted to know what would happen when the marshmallows were compressed during the 6 G re-entry. They wondered how big they would get as the air pressure lessened during ascent and then how fast the vacuum of space change their shape again.
Curiosity is part of learning. Do we as a community, with the opportunity to go to space routinely coming to New Mexico first, of all the communities across the globe, do we want to welcome this new space age in our community with our faces turned to the wall in ignorance? Fortunately the educational leaders in our community, including superintendents Rounds in Las Cruces, and Burris in Truth or Consequences, are enabling us to prepare our students to participate in the same great adventure as the generation of explorers did who built the Shuttle.
Granted, not everyone wants to go to space. Well, not everyone wants to go to Disneyland. Is that any reason to tell those who do go to Disneyland they are wasting money and time on a fantasy, and it has no value. Ah, probably not. Sometimes, it is useful to give voice to the quiet, humble part of the human spirit that whispers – I wish I could. For me, I want to help that whisper become a shout. A loud voice for those people who want our community to embrace the tremendous challenge of creating a space business here in New Mexico. That’s a challenge alright and it takes courage to keep going in difficult circumstances.
Recently, Chris Anderson, Executive Director of Spaceport America was interviewed by a SpaceNews correspondent who attended the May 20th launch at the Spaceport. She understands building the spaceport is one part of her job, the long term vision to make the spaceport viable is another part of her job. She, along with her board, is working to create a plan to make the facility self-sustaining. Ms. Anderson is a no-nonsense administrator. She will get her arms around this project, and she will continue a long history of public servants who have contributed to making our community a vibrant place to live. Chris understands the value of using Spaceport America as an educational laboratory, just as the President has now enabled students to use the ISS as a lab. The 2010 Authorization states, “United States segment of the ISS will be used as a National Laboratory.” To those people who worked on the Shuttle Program that built the ISS, thank you for your service to our country. It’s not over. We will keep going to space.