I have just watched the final launch of the American Space Shuttle program with mixed emotions. I love watching the launches, but am sad to see the end of this era.
I remember the introduction of the Space Shuttle to a skeptical public. We had only known rockets and capsules and the idea that a glorified plane would launch into space and return to a runway was science fiction. I was, however, of an age to love every second of it. This gave me another option in my quest to join NASA and the ranks of the astronauts. I was convinced that I would one day sit in the launch vehicle and “slip the surly bonds of Earth.” The movie Space Camp introduced yet another way I could achieve this mission.
I sat and watched Challenger’s launch in 1986. I was home sick from school and watched the launch in my parent’s bedroom. The call of “go at throttle-up” gives me chills to this day. My dream of joining the space program was not deterred, though. I have tried to watch every launch since then. I was working from home the day Columbia returned from space in 2003 and watched in horror as the orbiter broke apart in the air on live TV.
We have twice tried to see the Shuttle launch while we’ve been in Florida for vacation. Weather defeated us once, a faulty fuel line the second. We took the boys to Kennedy to see a landing on one trip, but again weather beat out our plans.
I am stunned by each successive Congress’ short-sightedness in funding the space program and wonder what NASA will be able to accomplish while my kids are still young and dreaming. I have high hopes for them, as well as for Richard Branson and Elon Musk, and will do my best to fuel their hopes and dreams. They turn every cardboard box they see into a rocket and have visited countless planets in them. It’s their idealism that I worry about in the next few years, but will make sure their imaginations stay well fed.
Atlantis lifted off today and “on the shoulders of the Shuttle, America will continue the dream.” My kids and I will be dreaming right along with them.