Last Thursday, at approximately 5:50 AM I was awoken by a loud boom--actually, a double boom, as the last space shuttle, the Atlantis, passed over Southwest Florida on it's way to landing on the East Coast. My wife Linda and I immediately got out of bed, turned on the television and watched the picture perfect touchdown. I must admit, I shed a tear or two as the shuttle taxied to a stop. "This is it," I thought to myself, "the end of an era." (Hey, who's very original at 6:15 in the morning?) But, truly, it was the end of an era--and the end of many jobs here in Florida, in Texas and elsewhere I'm sure.
Over the years I have heard many of my fellow liberals complain about the space program. "Why can't we spend that money feeding the hungry? Why can't we use it to house the homeless and provide medicine for the sick? Shouldn't we take care of things here on earth before we worry about outer space?" And, a part of me, of course, agrees. Our priorities are out of whack. We are letting the poor and the destitute slip through the cracks. But, personally, I'd rather see us look elsewhere for the money. Rather than dismantling the space program, I like to see us stop spending billions and billions of dollars fighting wars that seem to have no purpose and no end. I'd rather see those dollars go to feeding the hungry and tending to the sick.
I know it's not as simple as that. But then again, maybe it is. Maybe it is as simple as saying we want to place an emphasis as a nation on those things that will help us be better people. And, as cliched as it is to say the space program helped us reach for the stars, it is also true. Literally and figuratively.
I understand that we're thinking about traveling to asteroids or Mars or maybe the moon again. And I hope we do. I hope we recapture the wonder of exploring the heavens. But more than that, I hope the end of the shuttle program causes us to stop and rethink our priorities as a nation. Maybe, if we had a better handle on that which is truly important, the wrangling over budgets and debt ceilings that we're witnessing in Washington these days would come to an end. Call me star struck if you must--but I refuse to give up hope!
(Photo Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/rllacey/3866183859/)