Space shuttle: An open letter to President Obama | Science | guardian.co.uk
President Barack Obama
The White House
July 7th 2011
Dear Mr President,
As the countdown to your final space shuttle flight approaches, I wanted to write to thank America for the inspiration the shuttle programme has given to so many over the past 30 years.
I was three years old when construction of the space shuttle began, and 10 when Columbia, your first orbiter, was delivered to the Cape. In early April 1981 as an excited, geeky 14-year-old, I darted in and out of my school’s library making myself late for every lesson as I repeatedly checked to see if it had lifted off and really hoping it hadn’t so I’d still have a chance to witness it for myself.
Early one morning a couple of years later, I was on the first train down to Stansted Airport near London to watch your prototype space shuttle Enterprise arrive in England on the back of a jumbo jet. And a decade after that, inspired by these vivid encounters with America’s space programme, I was researching a PhD on earthquake prediction using 3D images of the Earth acquired on one of Columbia’s early flights.
The US human spaceflight programme consistently inspires the world in unexpected ways and has driven unforeseen innovations in medical, material, Earth and planetary sciences, and accelerated many of the micro-electronic technologies we avidly consume today.
But the gifts of your shuttle programme go far beyond science. Your flights with Russian cosmonauts and dockings with their Mir space station in the mid-90s forced a change in your laws to allow scientists and engineers to share technological know-how between nations, for in the field of international human spaceflight, where lives are on the line, there can be no secrets. Such collaborations propelled people from their cold war mindsets of suspicion and mistrust towards a new era of admiration and mutual respect.
The work of the shuttle fleet to build the International Space Station has continued this era of international collaboration. The ISS is a triumph of ingenuity over adversity, bringing together 16 nations on the biggest peacetime collaboration in human history. The giant, orbiting international laboratory, which they have all constructed, represents the best of what human beings can do together and has shown us the way for future international problem-solving on a planet-wide scale.