Thursday, July 7, 2011

on the end of an era

*stream of consciousness thoughts on today's shuttle launch*

Today marks the beginning of the end. Atlantis, America's only remaining shuttle in our space program, launched this morning for the last time.

In a world becoming increasingly more global and equalized there is an element of pride knowing I live in a nation leading space exploration. For it it represents part of who we are as Americans. It is ingrained in our psyche. Part of our character. And in this space girls estimation, an integral part of our identity. In fourteen days the U.S. cedes this power to Russia and China. Maybe it's the historian in me (and a possible throwback to the Cold War), but the thought of Russia launching our astronauts for an undetermined amount of time does not fill me with happiness. Instead, it feels like something has been stolen, taken from me. And I hate that so many men and women who devoted years of their life to the space dream are now out of work.

My fascination with space goes back almost as far as I can remember. I've know who the first American female astronaut in space was since I was seven (Sally Ride). Watching a launch fills me with joy each and every time. The blue jumpsuits fascinate me. Apollo 13 still gives me the chills even though I've seen it more than ten times. And to this day I tear up whenever I see footage of the Challenger or Columbia.

When I went through my I-want-to-be-an-astronaut phase (naturally at the same time I wanted to be a nurse and interior decorator) I couldn't read enough on the subject. And when we had one of those "dress up as an historical figure and present a first person report" days in sixth grade I chose Judith Resnik, one of the Challenger Seven. To this day I can tell you her middle name (Arlene), that she was Jewish, and her ex husband's name was Michael. That was the first time I learned the astronauts didn't die when the shuttle split apart. I am one of those weirdos who will stay up late to watch a landing and who is glued to watching the latest developments in Mission Control. Seeing a spacewalk live -- who-hoo!! You can imagine my excitement last August when I saw Mission Control (at the Johnson Space Center) with my own eyes. There was no way I could spend a night in Houston, Texas, without fulfilling that dream!

Which brings me back to today. I was excited to see the launch but knowing this was the final time made it more bitter than sweet. And filled with sadness. My children will never know the thrill of watching a shuttle launch as they currently exist, and I can only hope we'll be back in the game before too long. People keep saying the next chapter is around the corner. That we are still a leading force in space exploration. I sincerely hope that proves true so another little boy or girl can experience the same thrill for themselves.

Godspeed Atlantis! Long may you fly.

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