Just a few miles east of here the Space Shuttle "Discovery" has been rolled-back to the launch pad it abandoned in the fall for its rescheduled final departure on February 24. The flight is more than 3 months late because it was sidelined by a pesky hydrogen fuel leak.
After its 11 day mission, "Discovery" will be mothballed, as will the other two remaining space shuttle aircraft, "Endeavour" and "Atlantis" currently scheduled to undertake their last flights to the International Space Station on April 19 and June 28 respectively. After that the partner nations in the space station project, including Canada, will be hitchhiking aboard the 40 year old Russian "Soyuz" technology.
Strapped for cash, America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is terminating the shuttle program. The return "man to the moon" missions announced with fanfare a couple of years back by President George W. Bush have also been axed. The State of Florida with its unemployment rate still above 12% can ill afford to lose the several thousand jobs associated with the shuttle program on its central east coast. It's unlikely though that the newly minted Republican controlled Congress would re-establish the funding cuts of the Obama Administration as the GOP has made budget cuts a central national political policy.
Ironically it seems NASA's most significant space research vehicles are also its oldest. The twin-explorers "Voyager 1" and "Voyager 2" have been in space for more than 33 years. The spacecraft were designed in the hope they would fly by the planet Neptune and transmit data back to earth. They accomplished the mission in 1989 and kept on going. they are now about 11 billion miles from us on the edge of the solar system. They continue everyday to transmit back home from their 23-watt transmitters: Radio waves that now take more than 12 hours to reach back to earth. The technology so old that the "Voyagers'" memories are about 1-million times smaller than the computer on which you are reading these lines...and their scientific data is recorded on 8-track audio tape machines.
It's too late to change the status of the shuttle program so scientists may have to rely increasingly on the antiquated data being returned by the "Voyager" probes to confirm the news that the star "Betelgeuse" (beetle-juice) is about to explode and appear as a second sun in our sky...
"Betelgeuse" is the bright red star positioned in the right shoulder of the constellation Orion and may be easily seen in the night sky rising in the east right after sunset. The news that it's about to become a supernova, that is: Explode so spectacularly that it will appear as a second sun in our sky, has been floating around the Internet for several months. Some physicists believe the time is near. Only once before has history recorded such a phenomenon, in 1054 when the Crab Nebula exploded.
The possibility of a supernova adds weight to those who believe in the Mayan apocalypse prophecy foreseen in the lost civilization's ancient calendar which mysteriously ends on December 21, 2012. Many already believe the world will end on that date.
For the time being, perhaps some NASA thinkers could hold back on parking away the shuttles as museum pieces come next summer. The rest of us may just otherwise have to load-up on an awful lot of extra SPF sunscreen and hope for the best.