Sharing my life and love of cross stitch. Thoughts about this and that.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What are Your Memories of the Space Shuttle Program?

(Originally written 7/21 but not previously posted.)

The question came up on the 123 Message Board: I thought I'd transfer my response and ask the same question here.
  • The first space shuttle was named The Enterprise. Good going ST fans! The next one needs to be allowed to actually fly.
  • When Columbia, on the very first shuttle mission, landed in April, 1981 on a whim I took the portable TV up to my DD's elementary school so her 3rd grade class could watch. However, I later mentally kicked myself when I belatedly realized the horrible effect it would have had on the kids had the landing been a disaster. Thankfully, the landing was spectacularly perfect and awe-inspiring (for me at least.). I wonder if any of the kids even remember that? I still vividly remember sitting in junior high World History class in 1961, us holding our mutual breaths and each other's hands as Alan Sheppard was launched from Cape Canaveral inside a tiny Mercury capsule, becoming the first American in space - the event broadcast live over the intercom.
    Challenger Mission Patch
  • In 1986 I had just walked back to my car from the Federal Courthouse, turned on the engine and radio and heard Challenger had blown up on launch. I don't know how long I sat there with the engine running, in a state of shock that quickly became a deep depression that lasted for weeks. Kay, my next door neighbor. had been a local finalist for the Teacher in Space program. When I got home I went to check on her. She was sitting in the dark shaking and crying. We agreed that even if we had known the tragic outcome, both of us would have still have gone through the weeks of training and gone for launch. I already had reservations for a trip to Disney World for my DD's 14th birthday 6 weeks later. I'd been excited and wanted to visit the now Kennedy Space Center ever since Alan Sheppard blasted off when I was about the same age  Instead, the Visitor's Center was unbearably somber with the Challenger count down /.mission clock clicking forlornly forward in time. It was at +42 days, so many hours and so many minutes and so many seconds ... and still inexorably counting.
  • One night in 2000 or 2001 a shuttle descended across DFW on it's way to a rare night landing in Florida. Our Sweet Adelines chorus went out to the parking lot to see if we could see it. The flight path was us almost directly overhead. The golden trail of ablation and sparks as it flew over (seemingly MUCH closer than it possibly could have been) were incredibly beautiful. We spontaneously broke out singing the Star Spangled Banner - in perfect 4-part harmony.
Columbia Mission Patch
  • The next DFW shuttle landing overflight was Columbia in 2003. I'd meant to get up early, go to the park and look up.Instead I turned on the TV just in time to hear a local newsmen [standing on the roof at WFAA in Dallas] suddenly go silent then say with voice that almost cracked that something big looked like it was coming off the Shuttle. OMG! was it breaking up directly overhead? We knew the horrible truth before NASA in Houston or Florida even suspected any problem at all. It was our local TV/radio stations calling them that alerted them to the disaster. One of the woman astronauts, Kalpana Chawla, was a popular post-graduate student here at UT Arlington, so a lot of her former colleagues and professors were outside watching her fly over. I have always been grateful I had NOT witnessed yet another shuttle disaster - this one happening right above me.
    • Since I was too young for Mercury and Apollo and too old for the early years of the Space Shuttle program, my ultimate lifetime goal (at the top of my bucket list, if you will) has been to be the first Octogenarian in space. Seriously! But I think John Glenn beat me to it. Ok, for John Glenn I'll lower my sights a tad and be the SECOND octogenarian in space. Maybe in the next 17 or 18 years they'll come up with another space program and I can still make those lifelong dreams come true.  
    ADDENDUM: When I was at North Texas in 1966, 3 years before the Eagle first landed on the Moon, my physics professor proclaimed with absolute certainty and conviction that within 25 years man would be living on and making scheduled trips to the Moon and to Mars, preparing for a journey to the stars themselves. I believed him and dreamed a dream that maybe one day I, too ....  Since originally writing this blog article, the Soviet Space Agency has announced it will scuttle the International Space Station in the Pacific Ocean in 2020 or so, thereby undoing and destroying all the work, effort, and dreams of myself and generations of past and future astronauts, discounting and perhaps discrediting the lives given and expended in the process, terminally wasting the billions spent by US taxpayers in its construction and upkeep, and inexorably nullifying the sole reason d'existence for the Space Shuttle program itself. For our children and our children's children, the past 50 years of human space endeavors may/will become just another blurry fairy tale: ONCE UPON A TIME, believe it or not, women and men from Earth were launched into space, traveled to the moon just to see if we could do it, circled the world in a two stations they quickly subsequently and summarily destroyed, and dared to dream dreams of future journeys to points outside the atmosphere and living somewhere other than on Earth. Once upon a time. Believe it or not.

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