Watching the last shuttle, Atlantis, land this morning and reading fellow PJ Media contributor Christian Adams’ article about the end of the shuttle program is very depressing. I grew up in Rocket City, USA, (aka, Huntsville, Ala.), the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center. It was a sleepy little Southern town when Werner von Braun and other German rocket scientists and engineers arrived there in 1950 to lay the basis for the American space program at Redstone Arsenal. They led the U.S. Army’s rocket development team, building the Redstone rocket and the Jupiter-C, which put our first satellite in orbit.
The Marshall Space Flight Center was involved in every major space project, from the Apollo program to the shuttle. I lived in a neighborhood where everyone worked either for NASA or the Army at Redstone Arsenal (where they are still working on our missile defense program, another program Obama wants to end). One neighbor was in charge of astronaut training in the 1.3 million-gallon water tank at Marshall that simulated weightlessness. Many famous astronauts came over to his house for dinner when they were in Huntsville, which was always a good reason to be over there playing with his two sons.
The windows in my house would rattle when they tested rocket engines on the flight center’s test stands, even though we were many miles away. These were some of the most powerful engines ever designed by man. Back in those pre-terrorism, pre-paranoid security days, my friends’ parents took us on private tours of almost every major facility on the flight center. Much of the equipment I saw then today sits in Huntsville’s museum, the Space & Rocket Center.
My parents socialized with many of the Germans who settled in Huntsville and were part of the space program. The last time I was in Huntsville, I took my children to the space museum with my mother. We saw an old picture there of all of the German scientists, taken when they first got to Huntsville. My mother went through the list of names on the photograph, pointing out all those she knew. The museum guide standing next to us was amazed. One of my brothers worked for NASA during the Apollo program and my other brother is today working on our ABM system.
Growing up in Huntsville allowed me to witness the development of an epic project that testified to the can-do spirit of America, our innovative talent and technological prowess, and our reach into the future. As Christian very aptly says, it is nations at the vanguard of exploration that determine the course of human history. Our endeavors to conquer the final frontier were not just symbolic of America’s push to advance; it was a key part of our rise as a world power. Now it seems like our formerly active space program, like the shuttle Atlantis, will end up in a museum.