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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

As Humans Take Leave of Space, Robot Explorers Will Go Farther and Look Closer Than Ever

• Rebecca Boyle via PopSci.clom

Before I sat down to write this morning, I poured coffee into my shuttle-emblazoned Space Camp mug and thought about the end of this era. Like many of you, and like legions of space advocates around the globe, I've rolled through a litany of emotions at the denouement of the American space shuttle program.

Today’s launch certainly evokes pride; I have swelled with joy and anticipation every time I watched those orange sparks arcing across the launch pad and setting the shuttle engines ablaze. It evokes sadness, because one of our proudest national accomplishments is now complete. It evokes worry, as I wonder whether we’ll ever regain the nationalistic audacity and bipartisan fortitude that such a monumental program requires. And it even awakens feelings of maturity — the shuttle program and I are the same age, and now this last vestige of my childhood imagination has come to an end.

Then I clicked on NASA's homepage to browse through the space agency’s multimedia extravaganza, and the following two sentences caught my eye: “The end of the space shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA, or even of NASA sending humans into space. NASA has a robust program of exploration, technology development and scientific research that will last for years to come.”

This was accompanied by a photo of Juno, the Y-shaped probe that will make its way to Jupiter later this year. There’s a shot of the Mars Science Laboratory, equipped to look for signs of life on the Red Planet. And there’s an image of the completed International Space Station, to remind us that humans will continue living in space as we have done for more than 10 years straight.

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