We took ye for granted, and are sorry for it

An era is over. Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) has launched. I have lived through the conception, inception, and now possibly the demolition of one of America’s finest “moments.” Expensive? Heck yeah. But we have taken for granted the basic fact of the space shuttle program along with the entirety of the space program, and thus have under-appreciated what it has contributed and meant to this country. Once the source of national pride, the death of the shuttle program and overall de-emphasis of the space program has relegated us to sending our astronauts to the ISS on a Russian rocket. Russian! It was they whom we bested “way back when” and now we are, literally, in the back seat. What has the shuttle program in particular represented? Try, the most amazing feats of mankind in understanding and using science. We cheer as a shuttle lifts off, but do we think about what is involved? 100,000 feet in altitude in about 1.5 minutes. Traveling approximately 15,000 mph after only a few minutes. Surviving in a cold vacuum for days, weeks and months. How do you calculate the angle of trajectory required to reach orbit? How high must you go so as not to simply fall back to Earth? What is the escape velocity necessary to break free of Earth’s gravity? What IS gravity? What useful benefits have we gained from the...

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