The End of an Era–The Final Shuttle Launch

At the beginning of Apollo 13, Jim Lovell, (played by Tom Hanks), says the following:

“From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon.”

Today, as I watch the final shuttle launch, all I can think is,

“From now on, we live in a world where there is no longer a space shuttle.”

The first shuttle mission took place just a few short months before my second birthday. So, for most of my life, I’ve watched the shuttle take off, on a mostly regular schedule, barring disaster. The two failures, Challenger and Columbia, are, of course, forever seared in my mind. But mostly, I have memories of the successful launches…the excitement as the clock counted down, holding my breath as it began its flight, the wonder at watching the solid rocket boosters as they’re jettisoned.

It’s hard for me to believe that there will never be another shuttle launch. No more countdowns, no more watching with my children, huddled around the computer screen, because network TV no longer found it necessary to show our brave astronauts blasting off into space. Really, if there’s anyone to blame for the end of the shuttle program, it’s the American people, for no longer caring when their brothers and sisters traveled to space, for only being interested in the shuttle program when something went wrong, for ignoring all of the research and discovery there is to be done in space.

I hope that NASA continues to work on the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, with the intent of sending astronauts back into space on one of our own ships in the future. Yes, we can continue traveling to the International Space Station courtesy of the Russians, but it’s not the same as being dedicated enough to send up our own rockets. The moon, and eventually Mars, are just waiting to be discovered, and we would be remiss if we let that opportunity pass us by. In the words of Jim Lovell, at the end of Apollo 13,

“I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?”

Quote of the Day–The Final Shuttle Launch

This is a great exchange between launch director Mike Leinbach and Atlantis Commander Christopher Ferguson prior to the final shuttle launch:

“OK, Fergie, we’re starting to feel pretty good down here on the ground about this one today. So on behalf of the greatest team in the world good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of a true American icon. And so for the final time, Fergie, Doug, Sandy, and Rex, good luck, Godspeed, and have a little fun up there…”

“Hey thanks to you and your team Mike. Until the very end you all made it look easy. The shuttle is always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We’re not ending the journey today Mike, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. You and the thousands of men and women who gave their hearts, souls, and their lives for the cause of exploration have rewritten history. Let’s light this fire one more time Mike and witness this great nation at its best. The crew of Atlantis is ready for launch.”

“When Will We Be Going Back?”

“And who will that be?” (Apollo 13)

In reading this article about Christopher Kraft being honored by NASA, (they named Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston after him), I came upon this quote from Gene Kranz. He perfectly summarizes my feelings on space travel, and why we need to continue it:

“I pray that our nation will someday soon find the courage to accept the risk and challenge to finish the work we started.” Gene Kranz

NASA pioneer honored; says he regrets shuttle end

“NASA honored Christopher C. Kraft Jr., 87, at a ceremony Thursday at the Johnson Space Center in Houston by naming Mission Control after him. It was a fitting tribute for a man who served as the space center’s director from 1972 until 1982 and who helped design Mission Control, a familiar sight during space missions with its rows of consoles and workers. It currently acts as the control rooms for the shuttle program and the international space station.”

Continue reading to learn the thoughts of this “giant of American space exploration,” on the space shuttle and the future of American space travel.

via NASA pioneer honored; says he regrets shuttle end.

From Tragedy to Triumph

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long. I think that’s probably the first real tragedy I have a memory of. It it was one of those “defining moments” for people of my generation, where you remember where you were and what you were doing when it happened. Many of us were watching live at school, and I think everyone has seen footage of the shuttle breaking apart. It’s just one of those things you never forget.

Those seven men and women did not die in vain, however. Their passion for learning and space and exploration led their families to set up “The Challenger Center for Space Science education,” which serves both as a memorial to the astronauts aboard the Challenger, and a way to educate and inspire children. That is truly an example of turning tragedy into triumph!

From the Challenger website:

On January 28, 1986, our nation lost seven heroes as the Challenger Space Shuttle was destroyed shortly after launch. It was a tragic day, etched in the minds of us all and in the history books of our nation.

And yet tragedy let to triumph, as the families of the astronauts created an educational program to honor the astronauts and inspire the next generation. They formed the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, with a mission to “inspire, explore and learn”. Now with a national network of 47 Challenger Learning Centers, the program takes students on simulated missions to space, reaching 400,000 students every year and over 4,000,000 during our 25 year history.

Join us for a year-long series of events, as we honor the legacy of the Challenger 7 heroes and celebrate the accomplishments of the Challenger Learning Center network.

Day of Remembrance

It can be easy to overlook the sacrifices the brave men and women in our space program have made, since there have been so few space disasters, relatively speaking. But January 27 is set aside as NASA’s Day of Remembrance, to honor the crews of Apollo 1, and the space shuttles Challenger, and Columbia, who were lost in different tragedies, the first of which (Apollo 1) took place on January 27, 1967.