Final Blast

Atlantis & the Last 
Flight of the Shuttles

In the end, it happened on schedule almost to the minute: despite the threatening weather, the last mission for the Space Shuttles began at 11:29am 10 years ago today. A record crowd witnessed the launch, aware that their children won’t get to see a show like that.
Four astronauts headed to the Space Station and when they came back 16 days later, it was all over: the Shuttle Program’s 135th mission, its 30-year history, and possibly NASA’s leading role in space exploration. Our hearts skipped a beat when that era drew to a close.
The future then pointed to what’s happening now: space is a mostly private and commercial enterprise, and a new toy for billionaires. Science now takes a backseat and the technology that made possible the reusable space buses is at least 50 years too old.
It’s been a long way since NASA’s glorious days. After getting us to the Moon, it seemed to have lost its plot. Public interest plunged, federal funds dried up, and criticism mounted for running expensive programs with little hard-science research breakthroughs to account for.
Not much more may be expected from corporations whose main goal may be to fly celebrities to sub-orbital hotels to engorge their bottom line. Still, routine maintenance flights to the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope will be needed and NASA is the go-to for that.
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Read Also:
* The Last Detour
* Enterprise
* Welcome Home

In this era of diminishing ambitions, grandstanding, and a general malaise that we are no longer the people who get to accomplish great things, a few sobering realities have already settled in. Among them is that we badly needed that dream then and that we badly need it now.
As the Shuttle Program ended after three decades fueling our collective imagination to fly ever higher, to dare above our limits, to seek what’s out there, we began a new, more humble journey through the far side of our starstruck dreams. It hasn’t been a happy ride.
It’ll take more than our usual drive to discover, reach out, and transcend. To go where no one has gone before we need to put down our smartphones. Otherwise, only the powerful and those they employ will ever blast off from the Earth as the shuttles did so many times.
But even if we decide to send only rich dopes, or robots, or drones, or mini-satellites, we’ll still need to put our heart into it, something a bit rare lately. Someone will need to dream of blasting into the Space Station but who’ll even don a spacesuit if they don’t know how worthwhile it is to take a shot?
To dream is a serious business and it almost never gives returns from the get go. We must find ways to inspire our kids to believe that it’s worth trying. Even if we, as far as reality and the space program are concerned, are officially giving it all up today.
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(*) Originally published on July 8, 2011.

Up, Up and Away

Space Station Reaches
10 Years of Earth Watch

“The future ain’t what it used to be.” Nothing like the sage of America’s formerly favorite pastime, Yogi Berra, to convey in a few words, a world of meaning. The International Space Station that is completing its first 10 years in orbit (11/02/2000), for example, never became the home away from home its creators once envisioned. Ever since its first crew spent a few uncomfortable days in it, it got much better, but never quite the easy ride of the sci-fi stories. And, let’s face it, it never will.
Then again, perhaps we’re all better off knowing that the envisioned world of The Jetsons and even of Blade Runner was not meant to be. Imagine texting and driving a hyperspeed-flying car? Or sending an ultra intelligent robot to the past, to kill somebody else’s grandfather? And don’t even let us start with all those promised wonderful foods in a Continue reading

Thirsty Future

Water Supplies and Access
To Define Mankind Survival

Human Rights Now Include Access to Clean Water
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The U.N. General Assembly has declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right last month, in a Bolivia-drafted resolution approved by 124 nations. The vote was considered unanimous, even though 41 countries, including Canada, abstained from voting. The fact that there even were abstentions at all is nothing short of surprising. For within or very near the Canadian borders, for example, sit some of the world’s greatest glaciers, but never mind about that for now.
It is an unrestricted victory for an increasing number of scientists who for years have been calling attention to the serious issue water, or its lack thereof, may represent to the future of this planet. In fact, it’s one of those threats that’s grave enough to end civilization, and it’s safe to say, it’s way more likely to happen than the catastrophic collision with an asteroid we all rightfully fear.
According to the UN, more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion are without basic sanitation. Every eight seconds a child dies of a waterborne disease, in every case preventable if their parents had money to pay for water. In fact, more lives have been lost after World War II due to contaminated water than from all forms of violence and war. And a World Bank report says that by 2030, global demand for water will exceed supply by more than 40%.
But let’s not get too wrapped up Continue reading