As I write, the final mission of the space shuttle is under way, docked at the international Space Station. The launch of Atlantis on July 8 was the 135th launch since Columbia rocketed into space on April 12, 1981.

As I write, the final mission of the space shuttle is under way, docked at the international Space Station. The launch of Atlantis on July 8 was the 135th launch since Columbia rocketed into space on April 12, 1981.


Has it really been 30 years? Anyone in their 20s or younger have known nothing else but the space shuttle as far as America’s manned space program is concerned.


Much has been written and broadcast about this epochal milestone in the history of NASA. For much of society, it does not mean a great deal. Believe it or not, everyone is not a space buff.


We all have benefited from the space program, in a multitude of technological advances that make up our lives. We may not all know where the North Star is or even care the phase of the moon, but we all take for granted our evening weather forecast with its satellite imagery, our GPS directions or the swiftness of making phone calls around the world. All of this is part of our world today thanks to our earnest desire to step off our planet and extend our horizons.


It seems sad that the space shuttle program ends without a replacement manned space vehicle ready. NASA is working on one, but the consequences of tight budgets leaves anything like this in question. Meanwhile we will buy rides aboard Russian spaceships - irony of ironies, given that our heated space race with the Soviets in the 1960s put our astronauts on the moon within 10 years of President John F. Kennedy’s pledge.


For those of us who like to dream, imagine how far our cosmic horizons would be if the momentum behind the first Apollo moon missions had continued. If the American public had not bored so easily and Congress had kept up the funding, it is easy to imagine we could have sent people to Mars by now.


Imagine of instead of a heated space race with the Communists, we could have all acted like decent human beings and worked together. Of course the same dream is true for those longing to see an end of all war and a quickened resolution to a host of the world’s ailments, from the environment to cancer research. Imagine how far we’d get if no one needed to fund wars - but that’s another story.


Looking up at the night sky seems to bring us all together, even if we don’t realize it. No matter our background, ethnicity, politics or language, we see the same moon and stars, and by day, our own beloved star, the sun. We point to the same constellations and planets with child-like wonder.


When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 - the 42nd anniversary is this week - he said, “We came in peace for all mankind.”


Part of the enjoyment of viewing the night sky is seeing another satellite cross the heavens. On occasion we have seen the Space Station and even the space shuttle, looking like brilliant stars, moving together. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have witnessed a lift-off or even met an astronaut. I treasure an autograph of Col.


James Irwin, who walked the moon aboard Apollo 15; he later visited the Wayne County Fair in 1975 and gave a talk, where I was sure to meet him.


What are your thoughts about the space program? Have you ever witnessed a lift-off or have other memories to share? Please send your comments to news@neagle.com.


Be sure to visit the NASA website at www.nasa.gov.


Last-quarter moon is on July 23.


Keep looking up!