And I missed it...
I thought the shuttle was supposed to be launched at 2 pm eastern time, but when I turned on the television at 10:30 am Pacific time (half an hour before I thought the launch was), I saw that it had already been launched earlier in the morning.
So I missed the launch live.
Fortunately, there are videos and photos of it all over the internet, including this official video from www.Nasa.gov:
Video footage of the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-135), July 8th, 2011
According to media reports, almost one million people showed up near Cape Canaveral, Florida to watch this take off for the final time.
I wish I could have been one of them.
The launch of the space shuttle Atlantis (July 8, 2011)
The crew of the shuttle Atlantis preparing for launch
With the space shuttle program now ended (following Atlantis' return), the future of American manned space flight is uncertain. We know we'll never again see one of these magnificent space shuttles launch, but will we ever see any space ship launch in America again? Or are we going to be stuck watching our astronauts going up in Russian rockets for the rest of my lifetime?
I kind of envy my parents and their generation. Back during the 60's and 70's, the launch of a NASA space ship was like a national holiday. Everybody in the country gathered around their televisions to watch the Apollo missions and the first space shuttle launches. And every time, it was a "Wow" moment for everybody who watched. My parents got to watch men land on the moon in real time on national television!
My generation hasn't had moments like that.
It seems like whenever the whole country has gathered around the television for any event in my generation, it has been something horrendous...
|This is the stuff that's gotten national attention in my memory:
O.J. Simpson car chase (1994)
A plane about to crash into the second World Trade Center tower on September 11, 2001
The space shuttle Columbia explodes during re-entry in February of 2003
A rooftop plea for help from victims of hurricane Katrina in August of 2005
Granted, we've also had some pleasant moments: like the NASA rovers Spirit and Discovery landing on Mars and then going on to outlast their original estimated lifespan by over an order of magnitude; the inauguration of our first African American president, Barack Obama; the assassination of Osama Bin Laden; the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers meeting in the NFC Championship game for the first time in history (even though the Bears lost).
Robots landing on Mars is a wonderful, history-making event. But it's nothing compared to Neil Armstrong first setting foot on the moon.
Yes, our parents had to go through some horrible events: The Korean and Vietnam Wars; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassination of John F. Kennedy; the accidental explosions of the Apollo 7 and the Challenger space vessels.
But they also got to watch live television footage of breathtaking events that changed the course of human history.
Like the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War.
And the launch of Apollo 11 and subsequent moon landing.
I want a moment like this!
I'm tired of seeing tragedy, celebrity gossip, and show trials on the daily news. I'm even tired of seeing new smart phones and iStuff. I want to see a real, positive, awe-inspiring, history-changing event. Damnit, I want to see a man (or woman) setting foot on Mars!
But now we don't know if that will ever happen. A mission to Mars has been "20 years in the future" for about 30 years now. Is it ever going to happen?
I hope it happens in my lifetime.
And don't tell me it's too expensive or not worth the cost. Look at all the inventions that have come out of the space program over the past 40 years:
- New computing technology (the integrated circuit's development was partially funded by NASA).
- Insulation (originally used in spaceships, but now in homes).
- Lightweight and durable plastics and metals (now for cars and airplanes).
- Medical imaging technologies (such as breast cancer biopsy and ultrasound scanners).
- Insulin pumps.
- Cordless tools.
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Baby food (originally developed to feed astronauts).
- Recycling techniques.
- Paint coatings/finishers.
- Shoe insoles (same material invented by NASA to cushion astronauts).
- Scratch-resistant glass (now used in prescription eye glasses).
- Heating and cooling hardware.
- Longer-lasting batteries.
- Improved watches and timekeeping devices in general.
- Fire-resistant materials (and clothing).
- Noise-cancelling materials.
- Sewage treatment.
- Water purification techniques.
- Air purification techniques.
- Doppler radar (what the weather man uses to show you where it's going to rain tomorrow).
- New bridge-building techniques.
- Oh, and I think the spork might have been invented by or for NASA too.
The benefits to humanity that come from space flight aren't just intellectual prizes. They are real, tangible creations that impove the quality of life of every person on Earth!
Imagine all the additional advances that could come from manned trips to Mars (or beyond). The advances in energy creation, cryogenics, food storage, resource recycling, computers, materials, and so forth, could fuel dozens, hundreds, or thousands of new private sector industries and improve the standard of living across the globe.
I hope NASA has some bold plans for the upcoming future.
Even though they weren't used for exploration, and even though they didn't take us back to the moon or to Mars or even beyond earth orbit, and even though some will argue that they were a waste of money or time, the space shuttles have been a symbol of human (and American) inginuity and determination for 30 years.
They've taken men (and women) to space for 30 years. They've assembled the International Space Station. They launched the Hubble Space Telescope. They've serviced countless satellites. They've taken some of th emost beautiful images of the earth ever taken.
The space shuttle is all I've ever known when it comes to space flight. I didn't see the Apollo or Mercury space ships. I've never seen a Soyuz launch. Just the space shuttle. And it is so weird realizing that they are done. It feels like having a window to the galaxy being closed to us.
It is sad to think about now, but in a decade or five, maybe we'll be thinking that the retirement of the space shuttles will have been the best thing to happen to space exploration since Apollo 11. Without the comfort and reliability of the space shuttles taking us into Earth orbit, maybe NASA will start to look out beyong Earth orbit. Beyong the moon. Beyong Mars. Beyond maybe even the solar system, itself!
I can't wait to see what NASA has in store for us. And I can't wait to see what private industry is going to do with privitized space flight.
I want to feel like my parents must have felt in the 60's and 70's. Their imaginations were soaring sky-high. Just like Atlantis did this morning.
"For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return."
- Leonardo Da Vinci