The space shuttle Atlantis touched-down on a runway in Florida at 2:59 am Pacific time this morning – the last time one of the shuttle fleet will do so. The fleet flew for 30 years: the first launch of a shuttle into orbit took place April 12, 1981.
The U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to reach Earth orbit, on October 4, 1957, and it burned-up on re-entry on January 4, 1958. The first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, was launched on January 31, 1958. The word “aerospace” was supposedly coined on February 2. The U.S. Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on July 29, and NASA launched its first satellite, Pioneer 1, on October 11.
I was born on the last day of 1958. So, the U.S. space program and myself are about the same age. I was one of those kids that read science fiction stories about space travel. I followed the space program the way other kids followed baseball. I watched the first Apollo Moon landing on TV on July 20, 1969 (along with about 500 million other people). I watched the first shuttle launch on TV in a college classroom in ’81. And a few minutes ago I watched the last shuttle landing on TV – satellite TV.
Now I wonder – will I see U.S. astronauts go back into space in my lifetime?