Shortly before 6am, those of us who live in Southwest Florida were treated, once again, to the signature “Boom Boom” from the space shuttle after another successful mission into space. This is one of the many benefits that we get in this part of the country.
I remember the first time I heard the double sonic booms. It rattled my whole house and my reaction was “WHAT WAS THAT!!!!” I thought someone had set off an explosion and used a little bit too much nitro. Then, I came to my senses and realized that the space shuttle was returning and that the sound I heard was the double sonic booms that I had heard so much about.
This morning, although it was a sweet sound to hear, it was also bitter. This was the last time that I will ever hear that sound. Today was the last time that a space shuttle will ever land because the entire program has been shut down. For thirty years, the space shuttle has been the workhorse of our space program. For most people in this country, the space shuttle is all that they know.
Sadly, there is no program that is ready to take its place. For the foreseeable future, the United States will have to rely on other countries to get humans into space. Much of the technology that exists in our society, from food preservation to computers, traces its roots back to NASA and the space program. Many industries were formed as a result of the space program in the past forty years since the first Mercury flight in 1959.
Another sad result of the cancellation of the shuttle program is the hundreds of people connected with the program at NASA that are being laid off. When you combine this with even more that will suffer the same fate at companies that are connected with the program, many thousands will loose their jobs during one of the worst economic times in our country. This will have a drastic effect on our technology programs and our economics.
The NASA budget is just a small fraction of the budget of this country. Yet, the economic benefit that has resulted from it more than pays for the program. The “Return on Investment” from the NASA budget far exceeds that from any other budget item, including education, welfare and other pork projects that our “elected” leaders come up with.
My hope is that someday we will return to space. The benefits of the space program far out-weigh the risks.