Now that the final space shuttle mission is underway, the science journalism world is buzzing with thoughts about Atlantis and the end of this particular era of space exploration. Some people lament the passing of the shuttle age: I know I do. The space shuttle missions have been a part of my life since I was a child. I have a fuzzy memory of having a space shuttle toy -- or maybe it belonged to a friend -- and loving the opening cargo doors and its resemblance to a jet fighter. There was even Astrotrain, a Transformer that turned into a space shuttle (as well as into a train: I love the mixing of transportation technology). There was even an article in the Economist about how the end of the space shuttle meant the fading of man's aspirations to leave Earth's gravity and explore the great beyond.
Later in my life, space shuttle missions became routine, but they still inspired me. Even though a shuttle launch would be relegated to the back pages of the local newspaper, it would still inspire wonder. And, despite the tragedies of Challenger and Columbia, the shuttle mission managed to make me believe that mankind could achieve great things.
Perhaps that wondrous time is passing. But I am holding out hope that the adventure of space flight will prove too hard to resist. After watching the video above -- posted by Phil Plaitt, who maintains the Bad Astronomy blog -- I am captivated by the ballet of orbital craft, the rhythm of discovery, and the majesty of mankind's dreams.
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