Friday, July 08, 2011

Stuck outside of Hogtown with those Shuttle Launch Blues again

Insignia for the first shuttle launch
We were just outside of Hogtown when the first Shuttle went up. Other cars joined us along the side of I-75 to view history. We were disappointed, not with the launch, but with the fact that we weren't on the beach at Daytona. That was our goal when my wife Chris, my brother Dan and I left Denver two days before.

Stuff happens. A batch of bad gas in Mississippi, or maybe just an aging vehicle. We were stalled for several hours at a truck stop on the Florida panhandle. The car still wasn't running right when we pulled off the highway for the launch.

An impressive sight. Heard and felt it, too. After it climbed out of sight, leaving its contrail drifting in the clear Florida sky, we looked at each other and said, "Let's go to the beach."

All three of us had viewed many launches over the years, some from the beach and some from our backyard. My father worked for the space program out of Daytona, for NASA and G.E. Chris's father used to take her and her sister down to the beach to watch the spectacles. I heard "The Eagle has landed" via the car radio as my high school girlfriend and I were parked on the beach during a July thunderstorm (yes, I was paying more attention to the moon landing than to the business at hand).

I'd like to be on the beach today. To watch the launch and to be on the beach, my old haunt. Chris is in Daytona for her high school reunion. She'll see the launch with her sister and old Seabreeze High School "Fighting Sandcrabs" pals. I don't care much for reunions. But I'm miffed that I'm missing the last Shuttle launch.

Some of my progressive colleagues don't see the value of the space program. They contend that it's too expensive. They don't see the value in the scientific research. They don't understand why we have to send actual humans into space when robots can do the work cheaper and with less risk.

But "manned flight" (lots of women in space, too) is important precisely because it's in our genes to explore. One major benefit from the Space Shuttle are the fantastic images captured by the Hubble. They have opened up the wonders and terrors of our universe like nothing else. Colliding galaxies and collapsing stars and black holes and artistically-shaped nebulae and all of that space (what's with that dark matter?). We must go there to see these wonders and to figure out what they are and what they mean.

I grew up reading Tom Swift and then Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Sci-fi fed my imagination. And then came the space program. I had the great good fortune to live at the epicenter of Mercury and Gemini and Apollo.

One closing note: that first shuttle launch happened 20 years to the day after the first manned space flight by the Soviet Union. In 1981, we were still going toe-to-toe with the Reds in space and on the ground (Reagan was newly elected). Now that the U.S is Shuttle-less, guess who we will depend on to get groceries and extra batteries to the space station?

Those darn Russkis. History is a funny thing.

1 comment:

RobertP said...


I too think the space program is worthwhile. I was fortunate enough to see the last Apollo moon shot which launched at night. It was spectacular. Still do not understand why we have not been back.