Friday, July 08, 2011
Today is the end of an era. Or almost the end.
Today was the final space shuttle launh.
It isn't quite the triumphiant end of a program, so much as a fading away into the night. Space, space exploration and everything that we've gained from it and could stand to learn has taken a back seat to other things over the last few decades. Shuttle launches are not the amazing show of talent and adventuring spirit that the Apollo and earlier missions were. The shuttle launches barely get a 30-second spot on the news these days, we're much more Earth bound now than 2 or 3 decades ago.
I am very sad about the end of the shuttle era. Especially considering there is nothing new to replace it on the horizon. Sure, the ISS is up and functioning and will continue to be manned. But, it will not be the shuttle, or any US vessel carrying people there (maybe some cargo, but not people). Yes, NASA says there are other things in the works, but there has been very little, if any fan-fare about any of it. I think that, more than the fact that the shuttle era is ending is what sadens me. Kids these days don't grow up dreaming of being astronauts or space explorers. They don't dream about going to the moon, or Mars. They can see it all on TV. (Some good, some bad, but way too much in any case!) The mystery and thrill is gone. There's nothing to chase, no one to race, no country-wide goal to achieve or strive for.
Just like with many things in this country these days, we have these great and wonderful tools and technology ant things but there seems to just be this "who cares" attitude that permiates everything. It's very frustrating. It makes me want to scream.
I actually got to watch the shuttle launch this morning. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to. I'd had NASA TV on on my computer earlier while they were getting the astronauts suited up and strapped in. (Personally, I'm not sure I could sit there for 3-4 hours lying on my back with my feet in the air...) Then, suddenly our network cut out. (I found out later that it's all of corporate that's having this problem, not just my building.) At that point, the weather was only 30% a "go", but they were hoping it would clear.
This is one of the few times that I'm thankful I bit the bullet and bought a smart phone. I kept checking the NASA launch blog and when they determined that it would be a "go", I decided to take my lunch right at 11:15 or so, so I could watch the last part of the count down and the launch.
Yes, I used up a good chunk of my monthly data watching about half an hour or more of Atlantis. Yes, I sat in my truck (so I could actually have a signal, stupid building...) glued to my little phone screen watching NASA TV, hoping that my connection wouldn't freeze up or crash.
I am so very glad that I did. I will never, ever be able to see that event live ever again. I will never have the chance to watch this event from Kennedy Space Center. My Gram did once, on her birthday even. I was, and still am, very jealous of that fact. (Although, in some ways watching it on TV is better, because I got to watch all the way through to ET sep. I got to watch her main engines go through pre-launch testing, and ignition. I watched her clear the tower and power through the atmosphere. I saw the SRBs separate from the orbiter. (Always a gut-tightening moment after Challenger. Yes, I know she went before SRB sep, but still...) I watched as the shuttle drifted away from the ET. (Actually, it's the ET that floated away, but that's where the camera was mounted...) It was quite beautiful. The crew that helps get the astronauts into the shuttle as well as the launch comand all said their thanks and commemerations for the program. It was an awesome and bitter sweet moment.
And I'm so glad I got to watch it. I just wish I'd been able to see it on a bigger screen. Of course, it's a little amazing when you think about the fact that I was watching a shuttle full of 30-year-old technology on something as small and cutting edge as my phone. Think about it, the entire control room that handles the entire Apollo 11 mission has less computing power than a graphing calculator. I'm sure my phone has more memory and a faster processor and more power than the shuttle computers. (I used to know their stats better, but that knowledge has faded over time...) To think that my phone's technology was just a dream 5 years ago even and here I am today using it to watch people leave the planet, is downright mind blowing. (Not to mention totally awesome!)
Anyhow, I'm trying to work from home, but unfortunately, the connection I was going to be working with isn't playing nice, so I wrote this blog. I'd better try and get something productive done in the next hour or so...
Peace to all and may your dreams reach for the stars, and get there.