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An era of space exploration and advancement came to an end last week and we’re all the richer for the collective effort of the nation’s three-decades-old shuttle program.
The space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth Thursday morning. Its successful voyage marked the 135th shuttle mission and the iconic images of the orbitters’ attached external fuel tanks hurtling into space amid plumes of smoke is something we will all remember.
We suspect many of us are old enough to remember when Columbia made the first orbital shuttle flight in 1981. Many of us were gathered that April morning around home televisions or TVs in school libraries. Many of us also remember where we were when Shuttle Challenger exploded after its 1986 launch and the loss in 2003 of Shuttle Columbia over Texas.
Beyond those tragedies, however, is a successful history of space achievement, exploration and advancement. Shuttle missions have included satellite launches, probes to planets, scientific experiments and construction of space stations. The Atlantis mission included delivery of a year’s worth of supplies to the International Space Station.
In addition to the benefits to science and the advancement of our knowledge of the cosmos, such as the Hubble space telescope, we would point to the national pursuit of excellence the space program advances. We hope that never changes. Even in times of financial limitations, we hope NASA continues to receive funding for worthwhile space programs that will keep our nation in first place in the race to explore the heavens.
A nation as great as ours should always have the foremost space program in the world and we look forward to the next generation of spacecraft and manned flights.
Who knows? Perhaps there is a future astronaut in our local schools.
We suspect young Perry Countians alive today will witness the return of astronauts to the moon and to Mars. We trust they will be as excited and proud as those of us who followed the travels of Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis.
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