With mixed emotions I watched the last launch of the space shuttle today.
I loved growing up in the 60s where the United States was in a space race with the Soviet Union. I remember going to NASA at Huntsville, AL in the 70s and being impressed. I will not forget my visit to the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC in the 90s.
Yet, nothing I have experienced can compare to being there … at Cape Canaveral ... for an actual launch. It was twenty-seven years ago that I was fortunate enough to receive a VIP pass to a shuttle launch. My son was thirteen at the time and my wife and I decided that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for him (and for us).
We were there ...
It was early morning and the weather was perfect. We were in the front row with the astronauts who were explaining what was taking place inside the shuttle’s cockpit. The anticipation as the giant digital clock counted down was a killer. As the primary rockets fired, a roar came from the crowd. Then, the spectators became silent as the shuttle lifted off and began its initial 90 degree rotation. The earth began to shake and the roar of the engines caused the adrenaline to flow in all of us watching.
Huddled together, my wife, son and myself, we felt a flood of hot wind pound against our bodies as the shuttle rose skyward. For several minutes we were mesmerized … focused … on the shuttle as it shrunk into the morning sky.
When it was over we continued to just stand there with smiles on our faces. We were both exhilarated and exhausted. We had been there to see a part of history unfold that morning. We had shared an experience that would be remembered for the rest of our lives.
Today’s launch brought back so many great memories. It was almost like we were there again. I hate to see the space shuttle program end. I do not want to see us take a back seat to other nations and corporations in regards to space exploration when we led the way for so many years. Our country’s leadership had a vision. They set unbelievable goals. These goals forced the greatest minds to figure improbable and almost impossible ways to make things happen.
And, our space program brought with it advances in technology and research that have kept us in the leadership position for over four decades. These advances have been the springboard for other advances in science, medicine, research, automation, computerization and business.
It caused us to dream ... and to ask 'what if'
Were you one of those kids that looked up in the night sky every so often wondering if you could see Sputnik or the shuttle in the heavens above? When we first landed on the moon, did you sit out on your back deck and just stare at it … knowing that our astronauts were walking on the moon? I know I was and so was my son.
Because of our space program, Star Trek became a real possibility … and no longer science-fiction. What happened to that vision? Why does our current leadership feel it is no longer important to be the first and the best? How many years will it take us to get back on the path to … boldly go where no man has gone before?