Thursday, July 21, 2011

Atlantis lands ending the New Frontier

Atlantis has landed ending the manned space shuttle program.
When we had our first sputnik moment we were seized by fears - the Russians were smarter, at least definitely better at math.  They were overtaking us.  Some - like the ultra conservative Phyllis Shlafly - worked up hysterical claims that the Russians had nuclear bombs orbiting above us.
Americans were unnerved and intrigued by the prospect of space exploration.  Rocket was the favorite word of the day.  We were seized by a dream of exploration like that of the nineteenth century explorers - Lewis & Clark, Peary, Scott, Shackleton, and the triumphant Amundsen.  John Kennedy tapped that spirit.  The theme of his administration was the "new frontier" and we went to the moon.  The shuttle was an attempt to routinize manned space flight.  It didn't work out very well.  There wasn't really very much to do up there, I guess.  As we look back it is impossible to forget those who died in the effort, particularly Christa McAuliff the school teacher and the six others who died in the Challenger catastrophe.