Shuttle Discovery Clears the Tower for the Last Time - Page 2

But of course, that never happened. Instead we found ourselves with more of what we already had. Computers got smaller, networks got faster, graphics got better, and we got mobile phones. In the early '90s we got access to the Web when something called Mosaic hit the streets, and I reviewed it for the first time. But there was little to indicate what a powerful force the Web would become from that first, very slow and very limited window on the Internet.

Eventually, we found ourselves with more information than anyone could ever absorb. The fact that there was no filter for that information, no way to make sure it was actually correct, was lost on us. But we found our way to where we are now. Today when you use your Web browser to visit nasa.gov and watched Discovery clear the tower for yourself, you can marvel at what we've accomplished.

But don't forget to say goodbye to what we're losing. The ability of the American people to explore this vast frontier is closing forever. Despite the claims to the contrary, there never will be a replacement for the space shuttle. Before long the Space Station will be deemed by some cost-cutting fanatic to be too expensive, and it will be gently nudged from orbit to die in disgrace in some tropical ocean just as its predecessor did when someone decided it cost too much. Perhaps we'll have a day when we can stand outside and see the fiery trail as all that work, and all of those hopes, blazes in the upper atmosphere on the long, sad fall to Earth.

But there may be hope. A handful of believers are trying to bring us to space again. For some, it's the excitement of travel; for others, it's pure transportation; and for still others, it's research. But for the people at Scaled Composites and its partner Virgin Galactic, for Space Exploration Technologies (Space-X) and for little companies like Xcor that are making the first tentative flights into space, you have our fervent wishes for success. You're all we have left, but you may be enough. Commercial efforts have always led successful discovery-after all, it was the Virginia Company that really started the United States, not the British government.

But still, it's been a quarter century of grand dreams and a belief in what might have been. Despite our hope for that shining city, we've also seen a sea of broken promises and failures to execute. We've always been plagued by visions that are too short, memories that are too faulty and valor that goes unrecognized. Maybe that helps explain the tears that come each time we see Discovery clear the tower.

Editor's Note: This story originally had the wrong name of the shuttle replacing Challenger. It has been updated to state that Endeavour replaced Challenger.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...