< em>WARNING: IF YOU ARE NOT A FAN OF THE MANNED SPACE PROGRAM, YOU SHOULD NOT READ THIS POST
Marian convinced me to get up at the unheard of hour of 07:30 to go see the flyby of the Shuttle Endeavor. Not only that, she persuaded our daughter, Elizabeth, to come over for the night from Santa Cruz, and go out with us. I was privileged to see history. I was sad because the decommissioning of Endeavor marks the end of the US Manned Space Program.
When we learned NASA intended to perform a flyby of Endeavor in the Bay Area as it was being moved to Los Angeles for final decommissioning, we tried to find as much out as we could. Information was vague, and seemed to change by the hour. We went to Moffett Field, believing the shuttle might appear at 09:30, after spending some time at the Golden Gate Bridge. We also believed there would be two passes.
We parked in an HP lot just off of Ellis street, and walked the mile or so to the gate. Along with hundreds of others, we were waved through the gate. We made our way to an open space near the runway. During our drive to Moffett Field, we had heard traffic descriptions which led us to believe there would be a huge crush of humanity. The crowd was relatively light. Traffic on US-101, just south of the main runway, seemed extremely slow.
We spent our time waiting, uncertain of the progress of the flight. Either because there are no towers, or because everyone was on their phone, it was very difficult to get a link. So, we waited, largely disconnected from the net – a unique experience in Silicon Valley.
I marveled at the number of cameras. I thought of 1812, when image recording was done via sketch or paint. Of 1912 where there may have been Brownie Box Cameras. And 2012, we may take more pictures than all other years combined.
We stood just outside the fence to the runway, in the belief that the 747 would fly down the length of the runway, at less than 200 feet. Marian struck up a conversation with a woman from Israel. Marian expressed sadness at the end of the Shuttle Program, and the only way we can get into space is at the sufferance of the Russians. The woman was taken aback by Marian’s sadness, not agreeing with it. She expressed, what I believe, is a common view by smaller nations. She rightly believes Israel can only accomplish great things in cooperation with other countries, that its very survival depends on it. She failed to grasp that America has been uniquely placed with abundant resources to solve large problems without external help. The woman seemed glad that America no longer has the vision or will to implement great tasks anymore.
The plane was finally spotted, and we all turned our attention to the event. Perhaps there had been an announcement over some PA system, but we heard nothing at our vantage point. The star attraction had finally arrived, and a cheer went up from the crowd.
I wonder if we will ever have a Manned Space Program again. I have no confidence the current NASA team has the vision, courage, or leadership to inspire the country to greatness. In 2008, just before the change in US Presidents, NASA had finalized plans for Project Orion, which would have returned the United States to Space in 2011. The new team at NASA immediately scrapped that plan, and is still struggling to come up with a successor to the Shuttle Program. This team in 1960, would never have been able to see what President Kennedy saw, would never have challenged the Soviets for technical leadership in space, or go to the moon. Even the great unmanned missions to Mars and the Outer Planets were largely built and launched by earlier NASA teams. Farewell to our endeavors.