Purcell: Discovery’s last flight - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Purcell: Discovery’s last flight

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Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Email him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 9:17 am | Updated: 9:05 am, Thu Apr 26, 2012.

“Hello, Discovery, this is Mission Control. How are things going up there on your final mission, over?”

“Surprisingly smooth, Mission Control. The least bumpy ride we’ve had in years, over.”

“You got that right, Discovery. We’ve had our share of ups and downs since the space shuttle program launched in 1981, over.”

“Regrettably true, Mission Control. We’re all still smarting over the Challenger disaster in 1986, when it broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe, the first female teacher in space, over.”

“A very sad day for America, Discovery. We recall how the program was grounded for two and a half years, and being overcome by sadness again when tragedy struck Columbia in 2003. A piece of foam fell off the fuel tank and punctured a wing, allowing superheated gases inside during re-entry, which caused Columbia to disintegrate just 16 minutes before landing, over.”

“An awful memory, Mission Control. After that, we did extensive testing and redesign to make sure the foam problems would not happen again. Unfortunately, it did happen again on a subsequent flight, but thankfully didn’t cause an explosion, over.”

“Thank God for that, Discovery, but the response from then-NASA chief Michael Griffin sure didn’t fill Americans with confidence. He said his engineers goofed on key safety checks, over.”

“It was certainly off-putting to hear the head of our once-proud agency use the word ‘goof,’ Mission Control. We remember how the public grew weary of such goofs — particularly with all the money we were spending. The 135 shuttle missions cost $209 billion — well beyond initial estimates, over.”

“Well, Discovery, we all hoped the Constellation program, signed into law in 2004 under President Bush, would breathe new life into U.S. space exploration. Bush’s plan sought to return us to the moon by 2020. It anticipated completion of the International Space Station and the shuttle program’s planned cessation in 2010, over.”

“But President Obama canceled Constellation last year. With Americans losing their enthusiasm for space and America’s budget hemorrhaging red ink, he didn’t face much resistance. Obama’s plan may be underwhelming in many respects, but it calls for more reliance on the private sector, over.”

“That’s true, Discovery. Many Republicans criticized Obama, but his plan may be the better way to explore space. The New Atlantis, a conservative publication, says that when President Kennedy expanded NASA in 1961 to compete with the Soviets, America created a ‘massive, centralized, command-and-control agency.’ Big government agencies tend to be inefficient, expensive and make mistakes, over.”

“Agreed, Mission Control. As The New Atlantis says, whereas Obama loves big government programs in all other areas, he has offered a conservative approach to space. We now have an opportunity to unleash the private sector’s creativity to explore space more efficiently and effectively, over.”

“Perhaps, Discovery, but it still is sad to see America dial down its commitment to space. It’s like we’re giving up our leadership role and handing it off to China and Russia. Your last flight getting a piggy back ride to a space museum is a bittersweet image, over.”

“All of this is sad, indeed, Mission Control. We surely hope and pray America gets its affairs in order, enjoys robust economic growth again and generates the funds needed to reinvigorate our space programs, over.”

“Well, Discovery, you’re about to reach your final destination. Discovery has had more missions than any other shuttle, assisting with the Hubble Space Telescope and the space station. You’ve got plenty to be proud about. And you now can enjoy a victory lap over Washington, D.C. All things considered, Discovery, your work was victorious indeed. Over and out.”

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