The space shuttle, once a gleaming beacon of the future, will soon be a part of America’s past. NASA launched its final shuttle Friday, the last of the 30-year-long program.
Bill Endicott, a Marysville man who spent a career in television and radio and reported on NASA for Everett’s KRKO (1380 AM) and other Northwest radio stations in the 1960s, said he regrets the closure of the program.
“You ask yourself, ‘Is this the end of an era?’” he said.
While Atlantis launched into its final 12-day mission, Endicott and others here reflected on what the country’s space program achieved and what the future holds.
Raleigh Johnson, a Mukilteo man whose son Greg Johnson piloted the shuttle Atlantis in a previous flight, said the retirement of the shuttles was disappointing but necessary. His son lives in Texas.
“It leaves a big void in getting to the space station, but they’re going to try to fix that with getting some kind of commercial vehicle to carry people and cargo up there,” he said.
While NASA plans to focus on future missions to visit Mars and orbit an asteroid, Endicott expressed concern that the U.S. was letting go of all of the research and exploration that has cost the nation both money and lives.
Endicott, who attended almost a dozen launches of early space rockets, said his employers didn’t appreciate their significance at the time. He had to catch rides with the U.S. Air Force down to Patrick Air Force Base near Cape Canaveral, Fla.
“It was a milestone in science and a milestone in human accomplishment,” he said. “Now in retrospect, people look back and say, ‘Yeah, this was that important.’”
Future of Flight Executive Director Barry Smith watched the final flight Friday morning with some sadness, but said he understands why the program is being shut down. He said NASA did a good job of pioneering space exploration.
For NASA to have made access to space routine “by humans is just, in my 67-year-old mind, phenomenal,” he said.
The shuttle that took off Friday morning is the program’s 135th mission and the 33rd by the shuttle Atlantis. Smith remembers watching the first shuttle launch in 1981.
“The shuttle is an old vehicle and we have taken it for granted,” Smith said. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to NASA and the vision of NASA and the prior presidents in backing an exploration that was just as frightening and courageous as sending Lewis and Clark out into the Wild West.”
Sunne, S.A. (2011). Final shuttle launch leaves void for those connected to program. The Herald, Retrieved from http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20110708/NEWS01/707099958