On Wednesday, the space shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth, and there was much rejoicing (and sorrow) among fans of space flights.
There was rejoicing over another successful mission, but there was sorrow because this was the last scheduled flight by a space shuttle.
The touchdown on Earth of the final shuttle occurred 42 years to the day from the first time man set foot on an extraterrestrial object. It was July 20, 1969 when astronaut Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
So what has happened since then?
A number of other Apollo missions flew to the moon, landed, and returned. One, Apollo 13, did not make it to the Moon. Interestingly, the failed mission is the only one Hollywood apparently decided was interesting enough to make a movie about.
Unmanned spacecraft have gone to various sectors of the solar system, including out to the orbit of what was at the time the planet Pluto, which has since been downgraded to being a dwarf planet.
Scientists have used telescopes on Earth in space to discover many new stars, some with apparent planetary systems. They have come up with new theories about how the universe was created and where it will all end.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth and outside the observatory walls of the United States, there are still people dying of hunger. There are still people fighting to survive from day to day.
Somehow, though, we suspect all the money that used to go towards the space-shuttle program will end up somewhere other than actually helping people survive on Earth.
That’s just the way it is.
But is it the way it has to be?