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'F' as in Frank

End of an era

The news capturing headlines these days involves the thumping Democrats received in the ballot box, especially in the House.

While the Pelosi era may be ending - and none too soon - another era is quietly nearing an end in the U.S. That would be the era of manned space flight for the U.S.

Weather permitting, the space shuttle Discovery will start its final mission this week.

After Discovery returns back home to be mothballed, there will be just two other space shuttle flights.

For sure, the space shuttle program was not without its problems, ranging from the sheer cost of each flight to technical issues that claimed lives on two missions.

But for all that, during a span of more than 30 years the program did much to make the space station become reality and was unique as the only space vehicle that could haul cargo, fly back and be re-used upon its return to earth.

What's worrisome to me isn't that the space shuttle program is on its last legs - fine programs such as Apollo saw their day come and go - but that there's really nothing intended to take its place.

At least when Gemini or Apollo went by the wayside NASA had a program in the pipeline to sustain space research and flight.

That era apparently ends as the pipeline is empty when the shuttle program wraps up next year. In fact, there are estimates 9,000 NASA employees will be thrown out of work when the shuttle program ends.

That's because NASA has been mandated to change its focus to commercial rocket exploration.

I realize these are tough times financially and the government needs to pinch pennies, but I hope when the shuttle program ends NASA and the U.S. will still push forward with cutting-edge research.

After all, it's space research that has helped the U.S. with everything from velcro to technical advances for the military.

Otherwise, in less than a year we are looking at not only the end of an era but the start of a new one - hitching or buying our way onto a Soviet space craft in order to visit the space station we helped pay for.

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