3, 2, 1, and the Last Shuttle Leaves an Era Behind






KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — There was a time, some of us remember, when a countdown at Canaveral stopped the world in its tracks. On television or at the launching, every breath was held at liftoff and every eye followed the fiery plume of ascent, up and away. Godspeed, said someone who was everyone....

“We’ve come full circle since 1961, back to when we had yet to show we could launch people into space,” said Steven J. Dick, a retired NASA chief historian. “We will be hitching rides from the Russians to go to the space station that is mainly ours.”

The irony of having to send our astronauts up in Russian Soyuz capsules is as plain as cold war history. The Soviet Union’s early dominance of space, manifested by the Sputnik surprise in 1957 and subsequent feats, prompted the United States to match and then surpass the Soviets in a program topped off by the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969. Human spaceflight would have come along anyway, but not with quite the urgency of the Soviet-American competition....



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