The Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Kennedy Space Center this morning, and high into the sky and eventually into Earth’s orbit. It marks the final launch – the last time in 30 years America will launch a Space Shuttle. For this blogger, who’s saw the passing of the Apollo Space Program and now the Space Shuttle, and reduced budgets for space exploration, today’s event marks the end of intellectual curiosity.
Please understand that from my birth in 1962 to today, I’ve grown up not only with the idea that “something is out there,” but that we were making the instruments to place people in space to find that something. The highlight came when I was just 7 years old – Apollo 11 took the first astronauts to the moon, and for me, the term “moon walk” had nothing to do with a dance or Michael Jackson. It referred to what Neil Armstrong did when he set foot on the Moon.
That year, 1969, was the last year of Star Trek, the NBC Television show, left for dead, but revived in syndication, and has now defined a good portion of American geek culture. It took us into the 1970s, with more Apollo launches to the Moon, and ideas of a giant space colony orbiting the Earth from a place called “L5” – for Lagrangian points that are the perfect “even” points in Earth – Moon gravitational pull.
Skylab and the development of the International Space Station pointed the way toward the eventual colonization of space, and continued funding for space exploration. Meanwhile, Star Trek had grown to movie form, Britain produced Space 1999, and then Star Wars gave us a view of fantasy view space living part based on Star Trek, part on myth, and the rest from the mind of George Lucas.
But the idea of space and space exploration was not only the constant, but the catalyst for research and for the creation of new technologies and materials and tools.
By this time, 2011, some believed we would have that space colony. Well, look around.
Because something happened during that time of space exploration: we became more interested in us, or more to the point, “me.” The interest in “How can I become younger, better, stronger, faster,” grew and with it, more money toward research in that area. Money that, I argue, has taken the place of space exploration. It’s all about us, and not about what’s beyond us.
Now, while pop culture hasn’t turned its back on space, the advent of comic books into movies has meshed with our interest in being that “better, stronger, faster” thing, so Iron Man and the genre Tech Noir take center stage. Video games around characters find fans at Comic Con and become movies.
Meanwhile NASA, which really should be trying to use pop culture to keep itself relevant, goes begging for money.
So, what killed the Space Shuttle program? The “me” generation. That’s what killed the space program and intellectual curiosity.