Discovery’s journey a bittersweet one

Published 10:45 pm Tuesday, April 17, 2012

“Melancholy” is the word bandied about often on Tuesday as America watched the space shuttle Discovery take its final “flight.”

The flight was a piggy-back trip atop a jet to Washington, D.C., where the once awe-inspiring shuttle will be on display as a Smithsonian exhibit. And while millions of Americans young and old will now have the opportunity to explore the great flying machine close-up, its shuttering marks a sad transition in our nation’s once awe-inspiring space program.

NASA ended the shuttle program last summer, after 30 years of flight beyond low-orbit Earth. And while the program had its share of problems – including deadly crashes – it overwhelming continued to capture the spirit and imagination of Americans, who since the mid-1900s have rallied behind efforts to explore space.

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Sadly, the administration has cut funding for space exploration and forced NASA to turn to private enterprise to pick up the slack in space exploration.

Free enterprise is admirable, of course, but there’s an intangible benefit to a nation united in scientific discoveries and exploration. It’s the same spirit that brought the first settlers to America and pushed the pioneers west to the Rockies and California. It’s the quest for new knowledge, new experiences, new opportunities.

The shuttle program and NASA’s efforts to put man in space have fostered that spirit well for more than 50 years, giving us a national focus even during the most challenge of times in our economy; our international relations; and our political climate.

So yes, an entire generation who grew up with the dream of space flight and awed by feats of astronauts and the scientists behind them now feels sadness – melancholy, even – that the great shuttles will no longer fly in the skies above.

We celebrate your achievements and mourn the loss of your inspiration.