Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Shuttle Era ends

One last dance
Low Earth Orbit, July 2011

As the Space Shuttle Atlantis approached the International Space Station last week, I propped my laptop up on the dining room table at my in-laws' place and blew the video stream of the event up to full-screen. I've lost count of how many of these in-orbit ballets I've watched since the shuttle first joined the Unity and Zarya nodes together way back in December 1998, yet they somehow never got old. Even on this day, as OV-104 approached the ISS for the last time.

The kids buzzed around the house, every once in a while popping over to my machine to check on its progress. They asked questions, I answered them, and I hoped that enough of the morning would sink in and stick in their minds as previous moments in history had stuck in mine. You can never tell, of course, but you can always do your best as a parent to simply give them the opportunity to remember.

It's 5:57 a.m. ET, July 21, 2011, and Atlantis's wheels have just stopped for the last time on the Shuttle Landing Facility runway. There will be no more launches, no more dockings, undockings, re-entries or landings. All of this is now history. The next time we see an orbiter, it'll be on display at one of three museums scattered around the country. These incredible vehicles, built to do unprecedented things in the vacuum of space, will never return to the environment they were designed to explore.

As I watch this moment in history unfold, I'm reminded of the following quote:
"A ship in harbor is safe -- but that is not what ships are built for."
John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928
Indeed, while these ships have now returned to harbor for good, we're left to hope the future holds the potential for other ships to not only leave safe harbor and return to the sometimes-dangerous seas they explored so well for so long, but to push well beyond our own world, to places not even the visionaries who designed these vessels so long ago could have ever imagined.

It's been a trip, hasn't it?

Your turn: Thoughts?


Lifelong Learner said...

Carmi, I lived in Florida for 10 years. Just above Tampa. I had the pleasure of watching the Shuttle rise from the ground, looking as if it was coming from the length of road I was traveling on. I remember sitting in my house and hearing the sonic boom(s) of the Shuttle's front and back end coming back through the sound barrier. I've stood in my neighbor's back yard and watched a night launch without a cloud in the sky, and didn't lose sight of the Shuttle until it was over Georgia. It never ceased to amaze me.

I'm so glad I have those memories. I will miss that era.

Kavi said...

Ah the future ! The future is where we will spend the rest of our lives in.

Hopefully the mind will continue to operate the shuttles and we will all take a respite from the routine that day to day living begets by taking flights of fancy !