This is cross-posted at Blog on the Universe and Huffington Post

A different kind of countdown has begun. It is now 2010. Before the
next New Year’s celebration, the U.S. Space Shuttle program will be
just a memory. Those that took pride in following along as this
remarkable vehicle broke the surly bonds of Earth will surely feel
they’ve lost a friend, and the pain of a very personal page turned
forever will linger for quite some time. Those of you that follow news
of the day as daily ritual, every so often hearing about a Space
Shuttle blasting off or returning to Earth, will no longer experience
that quick smile acknowledging pride in American leadership and
technological prowess–at least not when it comes to human spaceflight.
(Are there really that many areas left where America excels?)

The older generations world-wide will tell children what it was like to see a Shuttle blast off. It’s a sight that will be preserved in perpetuity
on the internet, or whatever the internet will morph into. But in just
5 or 6 years we will be telling children about that time through which
we lived when the Shuttle was flying–and these children will have no
memory of it, for they will have been born in the post-shuttle age.
Soon, the ancient history of Apollo will marry with the ancient history
of the Space Shuttle for this new generation.

You and I are not alone in our living memories of Shuttle. Half the
people alive today didn’t even know of a time when the Shuttle wasn’t
flying, all of them born after April 1981 when John Young and Robert
Crippen piloted Columbia into space as STS-1.

What’s the future for America in human spaceflight? The current
long term plan for at least getting humans to low earth orbit–which is
where you’ll find the International Space Station, a pretty hefty
taxpayer investment–is to hand responsibility over to commercial
companies with no current track record of getting even a single human
there. So I’d like to put those companies on notice here. You’ve got
big shoes to fill, and a spacefaring nation that is watching. You need to do us proud.

I invite you to take a look at a stunning photo of Endeavour in orbit in 2007 (STS-118) at the Blog on the Universe cross-post. Click on that photo for a close up. 

Make Endeavour in orbit a teachable moment with your kids, or if you’re
a teacher, with your class. This is cross-posted at Blog on the
Universe where you’ll find links to essays and activities
that powerfully address the science, history, and politics of human
spaceflight–all embracing the notion that science education is about
conceptual understanding at an emotional level.