Friday, January 10, 2020

Face-to-face with Space Shuttle Atlantis

Where she rests
Merritt Island, FL
December 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
So I saw Atlantis.

I grew up watching her and her sister ships expand our horizons in space. I would wake up early, stay up late, or even fake being sick so that I could stay home from school and catch a launch or a landing. I plastered my walls with newspaper and magazine clippings (so old school) and memorized every last data point about the program. I viscerally remember where I was and how I felt as I watched the Challenger and Columbia accidents, live on TV.

But I had never seen an orbiter up close - until now. And despite the fact that adults my age aren't supposed to be humbled by much, the moment humbled me. Profoundly.

She was born in an era when America still reached for the stars. Never mind that the original promise of routine access to space was laughably unattainable, or that the Space Transportation System as designed was fatally flawed from the start. It still represented the best in American engineering, and it built today's space reality.

At one point, I just stood under her, near the midbody, and simply reflected. I'd spent a lifetime following this program, and was now in the shadow of its very centrepiece. It felt strangely comforting to be so close to something that had been a faraway reality for so long. Something that defined both my childhood and my adulthood. Something that had lit the fires that pushed me into a technology-based career and fuelled the wonder that drives me to this day.

To that end, the value of an artifact like Atlantis goes far beyond the merely physical. The hundreds of people milling around her weren't just looking at a decommissioned, pockmarked spaceship. Almost without exception, I could see new fires of inspiration being lit, and future plans being drawn up.

It's how we build better tomorrows: By allowing past triumphs to open our eyes to what we'd each like to accomplish next.

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