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The end of an era for space program

The launch of the space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Friday morning was bittersweet.

NASA has said this will be the last space shuttle mission for at least three years while private companies work to finish designing a new space vehicle.

It was yet another historic launch in the United States’ world-leading space program, which began in the 1950s and was famously spurred on in 1961 by the late President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to have an American be the first person to walk on the moon, which happened in 1969.

Since then, there have been many successes, but also several tragedies.

There was the mid-air explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, which killed all seven crew members. Then in 2003, the space shuttle Columbia burned and broke up upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Perhaps the space shuttle’s hiatus will allow scientists and engineers to make improvements to the high cost of building and deploying vehicles, as well as to the reliability and usability of the future shuttle.

It’s also a better time than ever for educators and public officials to make a big push for getting more young students interested in science and math, areas in which America currently lags behind in.

You never know, among the future generation of astronauts could be a kid from Southwest Georgia. If the space program has taught us anything, it’s that there are very few barriers to amazing accomplishments if you’re willing to work hard enough with others who share your dreams.