Today was a bittersweet day for me… Being 38 years old means that I have witnessed the entire history of Nasa’s space shuttle program… In 1981 I, along with most every school-age child in America, watched the first successful launch of the shuttle’s STS-1 mission.
The first fully operation flight took place on November 11, 1982… I remember because it was my 10th birthday… Off and on from then on we would watch a launch here and there, but it wasn’t a really a HUGE deal until they decided to put a teacher into space. Christa McAuliffe was to be the first Teacher In Space. 73 seconds into the mission it all went wrong, and we all watched… I will never forget our Vice Principal, Mr. Rowe, walking down the hall crying after the explosion. Most of us who watched the first success in the shuttle program also watched it’s first failure… Older people remember where they were when Reagan was shot, or the pope, or JFK or MLK, JR… My generation remembers that we were sitting in thus and such a classroom with all of our fellow students.
Life went on… Shuttle launches became routine, same with landings… On February 1, 2003, my ex-wife and I were getting as bite to eat and watched the re-entry of of STS-107… We saw it all go wrong… as did everyone else in the restaurant… I don’t think anyone finished their meals… They just went home. And again, life went on. I was blessed to be able to witness 6 shuttle launches while living in coastal Florida… The beauty of it in person is undescribable.
The risks of spaceflight are small, but there… NASA recently released statistics saying that the first 9 missions had a 1 in 9 risk of failure. All subsequent missions had a 1 in 100 failure risk. I think if you ask most of us who have watched the shuttle grow from a test to a final landing this morning, even at the 1 in 9 risk, we’d all have jumped on. It will not be the same knowing that the shuttles are all grounded and all future flights into space will look similar to the earliest… A capsule stuck to the top of a big damned bottle rocket. Not very romantic. It’s almost like watching the passing of a friend… The shuttle has been a constant source of pride, even romantic daydreaming, for many people, myself included. It has taught us about reaching beyond the conventional, about loss, about dreams fulfilled and that sometimes a dream is just the precursor to a nightmare. But what it has taught us most of all is that through good and bad, failure and success, life goes on.
With the greatest respect to the 14 souls lost on STS-51-L and STS-107, and thanks and admiration to the thousands of people at NASA who made the whole thing possible.