I drove down from San Francisco, where I live, to Silicon Valley this morning. Something odd was going on. As I approached San Francisco Airport there were a couple of buildings with lots of people standing on the roof. As I got further south, the bridges over the freeway all had lots of people just milling around. It was when I got to Moffat and the crowds were huge that I remembered that the space shuttle was passing through the bay area on its way to its final home in Southern California.
I was actually in a conference room when the shuttle flew by, but somehow we managed to miss it even though we were supposedly facing in the right direction. But John Linthacum, a Cadence AE, didn't. He got the picture above (click for a larger version).
Who knows whether there will ever be manned space program again in our lifetimes? As the capability of computers improves and technology like driverless cars becomes mainstream, the advantages of manned versus automated exploration get less and less. Of course a lot of the improved technology comes about as a result of improvements in semiconductor manufacturing and in EDA that drives it (obligatory semi reference to justify blogging on SemiWiki).
It is a fun coincidence that the Mars rover Curiosity should have just landed there at roughly the same time as the Space Shuttle finally goes to its retirement home. When I heard about the process by which it landed, with a mother ship and the strongest parachute ever built and a sort of flying saucer lowering the rover onto the surface it seemed unlikely to work. Remember it is minutes away for any radio signal so it is a completely automated landing sequence. Mars was so far away that it took 14 minutes for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to even know it had landed successfully, touching down at a vertical speed of about 2 feet per second.
But for sure it feels like the end of an era...