As a child of the space age I am especially saddened that with the final voyage of the space shuttle Atlantis we are witnessing the end of the manned space program. I vividly remember watching the first moon landing on a grainy black and white TV in my Fort Bragg orderly room on a hot July night in 1969. If you asked me then what the future would bring, I would most certainly have said that by 2011 we would be launching star fleets to Mars and Venus. We dreamed big things back then. Now our dreams seem pitifully small and we can't even do little things like fixing roads and bridges.
I think the political process grossly underestimates the need a society has for heroes and big projects. I was at astronaut John Glenn's ticker tape parade in 1962 after he returned from space. Glen was a real hero. Although President Kennedy was not as popular when he was in office than he is today, the space program was among his most popular efforts.
It was the space program that inspired millions of students to become scientists and engineers and we have been living off of that legacy for decades. The astronauts were far better roll models for kids to look up to than the reality television of today.
I know that latter thought proves that I am a curmudgeon, but trust me, with this last flight, we are losing something real.