We are coming soon to the end of the Space Shuttle era, with only one more shuttle flight left. But long after its over, the Space Shuttles will remain a strong and fond memory for me. A gleaming flashback from the 1980s, when they were new and considered technological marvels. They would become a central part of human space travel during the end of the 20th century, and the beginning of the 21st.
I remeber very vividly when the era began, on April 12, 1981 when the first space shuttle, Columbia, blasted off from Cape Canaveral on its maiden voyage for a short mission which restarted U.S. human space missions after an absence of a few years. Columbia landed again on April 14, 1981, on a dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. I was 11 at the time, and I remember it as the very first time I ever knew of a U.S. manned space mission while it was actually occurring (the last time such a mission occurred was in 1975, when I was just 5 years old and more aware of re-runs of Lost in Space than in the real thing). It seemed like part of a new dawn then, as the '80s were beginning and ushering in a seemingly more positive era of optimism: shortly before this, the hostages had been released . . . maybe it all signalled something better ahead.
There would be a total of five shuttles built: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor. . . even the names seemed hopeful. There would be many triumphs ahead, as the shuttle program ventured forward on missions that ranged from scientific research, to satellite placement, to assisting in the construction of the International Space Station.
And tragedy as well, first with the Challenger in 1986, and then Columbia in 2003.
And now the final fade away to retirement.
The space shuttle era was a beautiful dream. . . one that came true for just awhile, and then left, receeding into a wonderful memory.