Blue People, Red State - Winter 2010 travel blog

Saturn V

saturn building

Mission Control

close up

astronaut

astronaut


Last time we were in Houston we paid big bucks to take a behind the scenes tour of the Johnson Space Center. Many of our country's biggest space triumphs took place in our impressionable youth and our memories of these milestone events are vivid. On a cold and rainy day we decided to head back to the space center to see what people visit on the regularly priced tour. It's the last weekend of spring break and many families had the same idea. The Space Center has many exhibits to instill the same excitement in young people today that we felt, but there still was lots to see and learn for us.

In the beginning we and the Russians were solo operators in our space conquests, but as the missions have grown larger and more complex, many other countries have become involved as astronauts and as contributors to the construction of the space station. This sprawling complex is nearly finished and for the last ten years, astronauts have functioned more like construction engineers rather than explorers. Their work isn't nearly as dramatic and exciting, but just as dangerous and complex. After one more mission, the station will be built and the Challenger rockets will be retired. Only the Russians will retain the capacity to send men to and from the space station. Rockets maintained by the Japanese and the European Union will transport additional materials and supplies. An era will have come to an end.

During the latest Bush presidency it was decided to renew manned travel to the moon and then on to Mars. The people who work here have been designing new vehicles to make this happen and some aspects have been tested. But budget cuts have caused them to miss deadlines and they are not nearly as far along as they had planned.

And now the Obama administration has decided to close operations here altogether. The media here is full of angst about this development. Aeronautical engineers have specialized skills that cannot easily be transferred to other operations. We are feeling rather conflicted about it all. We have always been ardent space fans; the exploration stimulates the imagination and many discoveries and developments that enrich our lives every day have come from NASA. But our country is deeply in debt. It is clear that we cannot pay for everything we would like to do. We can live without the Johnson Space Center I guess. But once it is closed, we will never be able to afford such an institution again.

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