Friday, July 20, 2012

New York: Space Shuttle Enterprise comes home

Text and photos by George Molé

The Space Shuttle Enterprise, finally at home on the deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on the West Side of Manhattan, opened to the public yesterday.

A lovely event; a new jewel in New York's crown.

But I was on the Brooklyn shoreline last month--Sunday, June 4, to be exact--when scattered groups of New Yorkers watched as Enterprise, newly-arrived in the Big Apple, was transported by barge from John F. Kennedy Airport, through the Verrazano Narrows, to temporary digs in Bayonne, New Jersey.  (Enterprise was transferred to a crane-equipped barge in Bayonne, then delivered a few days later to the Intrepid.)

For me, that event had the melancholy feel of a funeral procession--reminiscent, perhaps, of when Americans lined the railroad tracks along the route as Lincoln's body was brought home to Illinois for burial.  In this case, though, the corpse was that of America's beloved, world-changing space program.

In a USA Today opinion piece published in May of last year, three astronauts who commanded Lunar missions lamented the demise of America's manned space program.  One of the writers was the reclusive Neil Armstrong, whose Apollo 11 spacecraft was the first to land on the moon, 43 years ago today, and who was the first human to walk on the moon.

"America's leadership in space is slipping," they wrote.  "NASA's human spaceflight program is in substantial disarray with no clear-cut mission in the offing.  We will have no rockets to carry humans to low-Earth orbit and beyond for an indeterminate number of years...After a half-century of remarkable progress, a coherent plan for maintaining America's leadership in space exploration is no longer apparent."

The astronauts quoted President Kennedy, who thought of space as "the new ocean," which the U.S. must be prepared to sail upon.  "For 50 years we explored the waters to become the leader in space exploration," they concluded sadly.  "Today...the voyage is over.  John F. Kennedy would have been sorely disappointed."

So, looked at one way, Enterprise is only an evocative memorial to glories past.  Today's leaders dream of changing America's demographics through open borders, transforming the definition of marriage and ensuring free contraception for all.  With these noble goals before us, exploring the stars has no place on the to-do list.

But, who knows, maybe that strange-looking space plane, sitting on the deck of that old warrior ship, will nudge just one kid to look at the sky and imagine...

It doesn't always have to be like this; better times, wiser leaders and more American adventures in space lie ahead, let us hope.  Welcome, Enterprise!

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At August 2, 2012 at 1:11 AM , Anonymous Barry Reitman said...

Good piece, George. I agree that both present and future generations will suffer from the starving of our collective intellectual curiosity.

And, going back to your last blog (about Coney Island), there's fresh news: Nathan's has changed ingredients in their French fries:

At September 12, 2012 at 6:49 AM , Anonymous Diosa said...

Enjoyed the article and the spectacular photos. Just wondering if Neil Armstrong, who uttered the famous quote in 1969 "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind," could ever fathom that our nation's leaders would shut the door on manned space exploration. After such progress, to see the space program scrapped reminds me of the quote "a mind is a terrible thing to waste." In this instance, the scientific minds of NASA's engineers are going to waste.


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