Today(8th July) at 15:26 (GMT), assuming that the weather holds, the Space Shuttle Atlantis will blast off on the last Space Shuttle mission ever.
I grew up in the fifties and sixties when space exploration was on the cutting edge of technology (hence the term “rocket science”) and adventure. I remember the Earth rise photograph taken from Apollo 8. I remember crowds of people in front of a shop window watching Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. I remember the drama of Apollo 13 and the relief when the astronauts landed safely.
The Space Shuttle programme was never going to be as exciting, but in many ways it was probably more important. The tragedies of Columbia and Challenger should never be forgotten, but neither should we forget the advances in knowledge that we gained from the Space Shuttle programme. Above all it brought us the Hubble Space Telescope which as well as advancing our knowledge of the universe and its origins brought us some of the most beautiful photographs ever taken.
I think it is interesting to note that the laptop I am typing this on probably has more computing power than was available to the first shuttles.
I know that the Space Shuttles are probably more or less worn out and that trying to keep them in service and safe would probably bankrupt NASA, but this saddens me, probably because one more connection to the hopes and dreams that I had as a child has been severed.
I also have a tenuous connection with the Space Shuttle programme. Back in 1983, I was on a ship called the Petite Forte. We were laid up in Jacksonville. Berthed on the other side of the dock were the tugs that recovered the reuseable rocket boosters. During the four months that I was there I became quite friendly with the crew of the two ships the Freedom Star and the Liberty Star.
Billy Bragg sums all of my feelings up, better than I can in this song;