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The End of the Space Shuttle: T-Minus Imagination for Children?

September 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

There’s nothing like rockets and space voyages to capture the imagination of children. Sadly, those voyages will become rarer in the near future. In July we witnessed the end of the Space Shuttle program at NASA. Officially introduced by Richard Nixon in 1972, the space fleet’s maiden trip to space didn’t happen until 1981. Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour were the five shuttles created for manned flights to space. The program came to the end with the last flight of Atlantis this summer.

One of my most vivid high school memories is of a late January morning in 1986. During an exam, our principal interrupted class to tell us about the first space shuttle disaster: the Challenger had exploded and disintegrated little over a minute after its takeoff. I remember being stunned, ready to watch television for hours on end. The shuttle – and the astronauts – – had before seemed invinceable to me. Less than two decades later, in 2003, I would relive that moment upon learning that the Columbia shuttle had exploded before landing. These tragedies reminded the world and I how many courageous people over decades put their own lives at risk to explore the next frontier.

Over the years the launch of the Shuttle seemed to become a bit of “business as usual.” Covered more as as second story than the lead one, it seems like space travel was something Americans had come to expect. Now, with the cancellation of the space program, it is hard to know what to expect next.

I am sad to see the end of the Shuttle program. Without it, what will keep children’s imaginations alive? Growing up I always wanted to be an astronomer, and when I was a bit older, an astronaut. One of my best vacations as an adult was exploring the Kennedy Space Center with my husband, who as young boy had also dreamed of space travel.

It bothers me to know that I am not sure when my own children will see another live space takeoff. Such viewings let you know, with your own two eyes, whether you’re five or forty-five, that it’s possible to leave this earth and come back. That’s an amazing concept.

I am proud to say the Space Program, with all of its success, and its tragedies, played an important part in my childhood development. It fueled my imagination, gave me great topics of conversation and inspired me to learn more. The program may technically be over, but it lives on in my memories in so many ways.

What are your memories of the Space Shuttle Program?

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