Wednesday, July 13, 2005

For We are Explorers...

Everyone who knows me must be aware of my unconditional love for all things space-related. So it should come as no surprise that my eyes are focused on the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today. STS-114 is scheduled for liftoff at 3:51 PM EST today. NASA is calling this launch "Return to Flight", and while that is a fitting title it doesn't seem to do this moment justice.

When Columbia was destroyed during reentry two years ago, I was driving to rehearsal for "Love! Valour! Compassion!". I listened in horror as the news came over the radio, and was depressed for the rest of the day. After I returned home, I sat in front of the TV, saddened by the pictures of the wreckage that was strewn over Texas and Louisiana. Sweetie didn't understand why I was so affected. Yes, I was mourning the loss of the crew. But I was more afraid that this accident might spell the end of manned spaceflight.

The Shuttle program is a victim of its own success. The goal was to make space travel as common and everyday as any other form of transportation. And NASA succeeded, to a point. Shuttles were seemingly going up all the time (only one network provided live coverage of the Challenger launch in 1986), but the crews were still made up of military pilots and space scientists. There was little thought given to including the public in the exploration of space. So the public stopped caring about the shuttle program and manned space flight.

More and more grumblings were heard from politicians about cutting NASA's budget. The agency responded by building cheaper unmanned probes, with varying degrees of success. And then Spaceship One won the X Prize. In the Fall of 2004, Spaceship One was launched into low-earth orbit twice in a two-week timeframe, proving that private space travel is a practical matter. There are plans afoot to start taking tourists into space within the next ten years. Now the public's imagination and yearning for space travel has been rekindled. Thus the interest in today's shuttle mission.

Once upon a time, I would take the opportunity to go into space no questions asked. Now that I am married and looking forward to having children of my own, that desire has been diminished. But I still look heavenward with fascination, wonder, and envy for those who break the confines of Earth and move through the gulf of space. For we are all explorers, and we should never cease exploring.

God speed, Discovery!


Well the launch was scrubbed for today. I'm bummed, but exploration always suffers setbacks.

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