"As soon as somebody demonstrates the art of flying, settlers from our species of man will not be lacking [on the moon and Jupiter]... Given ships or sails adapted to the breezes of heaven, there will be those who will not shrink from even that vast expanse."- Johannes Kepler, letter to Galileo, 1610
"In spite of the opinions of certain narrow-minded people, who would shut up the human race upon this globe, as within some magic circle which it must never outstep, we shall one day travel to the moon, the planets, and the stars, with the same facility, rapidity, and certainty as we now make the voyage from Liverpool to New York.- Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon, 1865
With the safe completion of the final Space Shuttle mission, an era has concluded. In my fifty-five years, I have known nothing but this era; manned space flight conducted under the auspices of NASA on behalf of the United States. And now, it is over.
There is so much history and change that this encompasses, it will definitely fill several books. The picture of the now-completed International Space Station (those words still give me chills) is remarkable for someone who grew up with "assured mutual mass destruction" by means of nuclear attacks between the USA and USSR. Now, we cohabit with Russia and other nations aboard this incredible structure, orbiting the earth and doing valuable research.
If you weren't alive in 1969, you simply cannot appreciate that the entire world stopped to witness an incredible achievement by the human race. I can recall what it was like sitting in my living room to this day and I still have black and white photographs of our TV set, showing the astronauts first stepping on the face of the moon.
We have also had our share of great sorrows as people have lost their lives aboard space crafts. This includes a woman from New Hampshire who was to be the first teacher in space, lecturing school children around the globe about science from an "orbiting classroom."
We have thrilled to the remarkable beauty of the universe as photographed by the Hubble space telescope. It's been a twice-repeated marvel that our skilled astronauts and engineers have actually extended the life of this magnificent machine by fixing it in orbit.
So much of the high technology of past decades and the wonders and toys of today have their roots in the gains made in the conquest of space. Man has also left his mark by leaving a huge amount of "space junk" in orbit that endangers satellites, critical to everyday functions on earth such as GPS, communication, weather forecasting and much more.
Now we turn to an era where it is to be given off to the venture of private enterprise. Being consistent, there will be both good and not-so-good that will come of this. Profit will drive the boat, as it must. In retrospect, it wasn't much different under NASA; just the terminology is altered.
This much I do believe; we, as a creative race, must continue to be more. It is the nature of the divine, the infinite and by extension, our nature as well. Look at the eras that the quotes above come from. It has always been this way and thus it shall continue.
Rather than letting my mind dwell on the drama and daily tragedies of everyday life, I choose to see what we have achieved, what we have become in the best sense of our spirit. I glory at the wonders of flight, of expansion, of indomitable spirit. I see the next generation continuing to take us to places that are scarcely imaginable today, places that will better us as the human race.
To all that have been involved in the great adventure, thank you. My life has been much the better because of your efforts.