It now looks like February 26 2011 will be the end of the Space Shuttle Program, and the end of our ability to put an astronaut into orbit. People will tell you that the end of the Shuttle program has been in planning since 2004, so we shouldn’t really be surprised. But the problem isn’t the Shuttle program ending, it’s that there’s nothing to replace it.
We’ve forgotten the lessons that we learned during the Space Race, and we’re about to pay the price. Take a look at the picture below of an Apollo-era launch pad at Space Launch Complex 34.
During the Space Race that Saturn 1B pad was a beehive of activity, and an asset that positioned us to send men to the moon. Kennedy gave us a vision and a challenge, and we rose to that challenge and built the capability and infrastructure – launch facilities at the Cape, Mission Control in Houston, an industrial base 400,000 strong from coast to coast, and a worldwide communications and recovery capability.
The country that started the space race so far behind – at a time when the Soviets seemed impossible to catch – won the race to the moon. Even to this day, only twelve people have ever walked on the Moon – all Americans. By the end of the Apollo program we had an impressive heavy-lift capability, and the technology, the facilities, and the industrial base to go anywhere in the solar system that we put our minds to. But there’s the problem – there was no vision to move past the Moon. And with no clear “next step,” America began a program that would have us not reach for the stars, but rather had us languish in low-Earth orbit for 30 years. That bring us to the present.
Take another look at that Saturn 1B launch pad. That’s what is happening right now to our current space program. Space Launch Complex 39, Pads A and B, were originally Saturn V pads that were reworked to support Space Shuttle launches. Pad 39B was reworked to support the Constellation’s Ares program. After a single test launch, Pad 39B is being torn apart just like the Apollo-era pad 34. The remaining Shuttle launch pad, Pad 39A, has only two more Shuttle launches (with an outside chance for a third launch in June 2011), then it’s all over. After that, America will have zero capability to send humans into space. The country that won the space race – the only country to place men on the Moon – and we will soon be dependent on other countries to send our astronauts even to low-Earth orbit.
When the last Shuttle external fuel tank is delivered, the infrastructure and industrial manufacturing base will be shut down, the launch pads will be razed, jobs will be lost, and so will our manned space capability. All because we didn’t have the plan – the vision – to challenge us to the next step. We’ve forgotten the first great lesson of the Space Race – have vision. I’ll be writing a lot more about what I call the seven forgotten leadership lessons of the Space Race.
People often ask me why we collect and create Space Race memorabilia. The answer is simple: It’s because those artifacts and relics from our first steps towards another world tell the story – and it’s the story that brings to mind the lessons we learned and the price we paid to learn them. That was our motive for creating the Ares I-X rocket launch medallion, and that’s why we’re going to develop and manufacture The Space Shuttle Program Commemorative coin.
Our current situation reminds me of what NASA flight director Gene Kranz said ten years ago in his book, “Failure is not an Option:”
“Approaching the end of Apollo, my frustration often surfaced. No one in America seemed to care that we were giving up, surrendering the future of the next generation of young people with stars in their eyes…. How I wished John F. Kennedy were still alive, challenging us to dare and to dream. I feel the same way today; the boldness and scope of his vision is not to be found today in our space program and in our nation.” (Kranz, 2000)
U.S. Space Shuttle Program Commemorative Coin
NASA’s Space Shuttle program will be coming to an end with the launch of the Shuttle Endeavour, currently scheduled for February 26, 2011. Our group is designing and developing The Space Shuttle Program Commemorative Coin. Follow and participate at www.SpaceShuttleCoin.com, and join the collaboration at our FaceBook site.
Ares I-X Rocket Medallion
Our most recent commemorative: Ares I-X “First Launch” medallion is available at www.AresRocketCoin.com. To honor Ares’ Apollo roots, each medallion contains metal flown to the surface of the moon on Apollo 11.