Space Shuttle Endeavour lift-off

Last night while watching the news with my mom and brother, the ABC News anchor described the Space Shuttle as a kind of space tow-truck. A rage began to boil deep inside me. I hate it when people reduce beautiful objects, ideas, design to hopelessly infantile terms. How can you appreciate something so worthlessly downgraded?

The Space Shuttle Endeavour took off today on its last mission. The last Space Shuttle flight, that of Atlantis, will happen in a few months. There is no planned replacement, and the International Space Station will be served by Russian Soyuz craft. The Soyuz is about 1/20th the size of the shuttle, and suffice it so say isn’t even in the same category of space vehicle.

The Shuttle was an outstanding triumph of human ingenuity and sound design. Like the ISS, it was also an international effort, leading to further international cooperation in manned space flight. Now, with the end of the Space Shuttle and the cancellation of the Constellation project, manned spaceflight may come to a standstill. There’s hope that the commercial sector may take-over in a space-tourism capacity, but only large governments with considerable resources can build the facilities and equipment necessary to probe our solar system, establish colonies etc. The retirement of the Space Shuttle sends shivers down my spine – and not just because its May 16th in Montreal and the mercury hasn’t made it past 7 degrees!

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m pretty passionate about manned spaceflight in particular and astronomy, the cosmos etc in general. I know – what’s there to be passionate about right? How many of you think about space launches and immediately think of that Simpsons bit? “Oh no! Not another boring space-launch!”

The horror… The horror…

I find it mind boggling how disinterested our species seems to be with regards to getting off our planet and trying to establish mankind throughout or solar system. Without a doubt we are the only sentient species in our system, and if we (I mean mankind) cooperated, we could probably get ourselves off this rock, possibly even terraforming other planets, moons etc.

I find images like this inspiring:

Artist's impression of a terraformed Mars - not the work of the author

And images like these ones haunting, even daunting:

The Pale Blue Dot - courtesy Voyager 1

I can’t help but feel strongly convinced that we have a responsibility to get off this planet, if for no other reason than the fact that it require a degree of international cooperation unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and we’d probably have to divert almost all resources currently used for ‘defense and security’ towards space exploration. What a great switch that would be; stop killing over territory and resources to instead cooperate to reap the benefits of all the uncontested resources of our solar system?

There’s no one else here, and almost every planet, moon and asteroid in our solar system almost certainly bear resources we’d be able to extract for our benefit. We know so little about our neighbours, and with the demise of the Space Shuttle program, we take another step backwards. It’s pretty ironic a shuttle named Endeavour would be retired early, and without replacement.