Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Shuttle era + 25

Do you remember where you were when NASA's first space shuttle orbiter, Columbia, launched? I was a kid, and I remember vividly what it felt like to sit on my parents' living room floor and watch the otherworldly sight of an all-white, asymmetrically-powered rocketship rise into the heavens. I remember the late, great ABC news anchor, Frank Reynolds, repeatedly whispering, "Go, baby, go" under his breath as Columbia cleared the tower and pitched into the roll program that oriented it for its climb to orbit.

That day, April 12, 1981, was 25 years ago today. And the rose-colored promise of the space shuttle era on that morning a generation ago has since been somewhat grounded by failed ambitions, two disastrous failures and a general sense that none of this matters to the public as much as it once did.

The remaining fleet of three orbiters is now grounded while engineers try - again - to solve the flyaway foam problem that doomed Columbia. The shuttle has a dozen and a half flights or so left before the winged birds are retired for good.

Yet whenever I think of the shuttle, I take myself back to that magical Sunday morning in my parents' house. The chills ran to the base of my spine, and the future seemed wide open with promise. I often catch myself wishing every day would hold similar promise.

Your turn: Why does all of this inspire us so?


Anonymous said...

I was in grade school living in Miami and I remember the very first Test Launch of a space shuttle off the back of the 747 transport aircraft.

I had an opportunity to visit Edwards AFB in the 80's to see the shuttle landing site and the transport 747. That was incredible to get that close to it.

The first test launch was big news for school kids even back then. I also remember the first launches. We went to Cape Canaveral for many tours and launches over as many years.

There was much promise of missions to space, living in Florida gave one great viewing opportunities night and day. Sad to see the fleet grounded. I don't think we will see another release of a shuttle into space if those in charge can't find a solution to problems of safety.


Paste said...

Human beings are natural expolorers, how did Star Trek put it- 'to boldly go where others have never been before' or something like that?

kenju said...

I was in the hospital having my second child when men landed on the moon. I was so proud that you would have thought I had done it myself. I think we are inspired by technology, the intelligence it takes to do these things and the mysteries of what we might find up in space. It is extremely exciting and in my next life, I want to me smarter so I can become an astronaut!

Thumper said...

Cripes, I feel so old now...I was finishing my 2nd year of college then. But what I mostly remember is the excitement over the idea that we could soon be taking trips to space in a shuttle.

I'm still waiting...

Prego said...

I remember some goofball writing a song about that launch to the tune of Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again." Yeah... Those were the days.

I think interest for me waned after I realized I'd never be an astronaut and developed a slight fear of aviation in general. Also, the space race reached a plateau. Besides discovering rocks and dust and some pretty cool photographs, people realize that intergalactic space travel is still years and years away, (unless you want to commit suicide, wearing a pair of NIKE sneakers and a roll of quarters in your pocket.)

As for inspiration? Terry Fox and Lanny McDonald. Now THAT's inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Think of how crazy that idea must've sounded to the first person who heard it. It just makes you think that anything one can dream is possible, doesn't it?

Leslie Shelor said...

I grew up reading science fiction, and through the years that saw men walking on the moon and the space race as a noble cause. Through the turmoil of Vietnam, the struggle for equal rights and the threat of war with Russia, this higher endeavor seemed to mean something that is missing now, while we're still in a turmoil of an undeclared war and still struggling for equal rights.

Natsthename said...

Same feeling I got watching the lift-offs of the Apollo flights as a kid. (and Cronkite and Jules Bergman)

I guess what fascinates is the whole "where no man has gone before" aspect. It's thrilling