Taking Stock with Rob Stocks - May 23, 2011

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I’m not one to get all misty eyed – more a believer in a bit of stiff upper lip – but I couldn’t help feel a little emotional last week when the space shuttle Endevour blasted off for the final time.

I dare say when sister ship Atlantis shoots into the blue Florida sky in July, on what will be the last ever shuttle mission, I’ll be equally sad at what, undoubtedly, is the end of an era.

The space race it appears, is over.

Sure the Chinese and the Indians are still busy playing rockets but our cousins across The Pond have all but thrown in the towel.

Where George W Bush dreamed of putting men on Mars, or at very least back on the Moon, his successor appears to have reigned in expectations – not to mention budgets.

National prestige suddenly has to play second fiddle to national debt and space exploration is paying the price.

So, the iconic shuttle is set to become a museum piece and the Americans will, instead, rely on their old adversary, the Russians, to send astronauts up to the International Space Station – where, as far as I can tell, they can perform a variety of experiments, most of which seem to involve ants.

It’s all a far cry from the heady days of the 1960s when Russia and America traded blows in the battle to take the first steps on the Moon.

It was all rather inspiring and, even though I was born ten years after Neil Armstrong fluffed his lines on the lunar surface, I can still remember my primary school ambition to be a space man.

Even as a grouchy teen I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the might of the Saturn V rocket on a family trip to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

The machine, and what it achieved, is just astonishing. It quite literally opened up a whole new frontier.

That’s why it’s so sad humanity hasn’t returned to the Moon in my lifetime. It’s odd, really, to think that we haven’t.

After all, in 1969 the Apollo spacecraft had about the same computing power onboard as The Munchkin’s Early Learning Centre shopping till.

Now you can buy a 3D telly bigger than my kitchen, robots which mow the lawn and computers which fit into the palm of our hands – all of them lovely, but none of them truly inspirational.

Given the amount of time which appears to have been spent coming up with these trinkets I can’t help but think we’ve got a little bit distracted in recent years.

Unless things change pretty soon, by the time my brood have grown up enough to have ambitions, man’s steps on the moon won’t be a recent memory, they’ll be real history.

And that, I have no doubt, is a real shame.