All day long, the Internet and television have been full of sound and no little fury over the moth-balling of our shuttle fleet and, realistically speaking, the dismantling of our space program. National Public Radio has been bleating all day for called-in recollections of our rocketry and space adventures, and asking for commentary on whether this indicates “American decline.”
For most people, there seems to be a period in life when they have to decide what they really want to do. Become a doctor or lawyer, poet or teacher, soldier or fireman. For me, there was never any doubt. I wanted to be an astronaut. Sure, I had other interests. Coming from Hawaii, I thought about becoming a marine biologist. After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark, I wanted to be an archeologist. Who didn’t? But all of those ideas were secondary to exploring space. Setting foot on the Moon or Mars. Floating in microgravity. Those dreams were constant.
My first real interaction with anyone involved in the Space Shuttle program occurred at Wahiawa Elementary School. Continue reading →
It’s the village of Kill Devil Hills now, but once upon a time, this open field and grass-covered sand dune had been part of Kitty Hawk—a place made famous when Orville and Wilbur Wright first took to the air. Hundreds of people mill about, walking the trail to the monument, visiting the exhibition hall and visitor center, peering into the reconstructed hangar and workshop.
It’s hard to feel the history here, maybe because the summer sun makes everything hyperbright and hot, so different from the grainy black-and-white photo taken on that December day in 1903 that captured the Wright’s airplane as it wobbled up into the air. Or maybe it’s because of the rows of cars parked in the lot and the masses of people decked out in full beach-tourist regalia.
The air somehow carries a shared sense of pride, like everyone’s proud of Orville and Wilbur, proud of the brothers’ achievement, proud of the inventive spirit that allowed humanity to rise up above itself and above the earth itself. Continue reading →
When the space shuttle Challenger burst into a fireball of horror and history on January 28, 1986, I wasn’t watching the live broadcast. In that sense, I was like most Americans. But unlike most Americans, I was learning about the disaster as quickly as details became available.
That morning marked the first time I had been trusted to lay out page 1 for the newspaper where I was working. I had worked there for four years and wanted to show the editors I could handle the increased responsibility. Continue reading →
On Friday, I was one of the million or so people to see the launch of STS-135 live. More than that, I was one of the lucky few to see it from the parking lot of the VAB, 3.4 miles away from launch pad 39A. That might seem like a long way, but trust me, you don’t want to be much closer than that.
Surrounded by NASA workers yammering about previous launches, high school students and undergrads yammering about the next party, and camera nuts yammering about f-stops and shutter speeds, I waited for hours, unwilling to give up my spot on the pavement. No time for eating. No time for the restroom. We weren’t going anywhere. Continue reading →
Thirty years ago last April, six of us set out from Lake Geneva, WI, in two cars. We had told our bosses that we were taking a few days off to see Columbia’s first launch. Lawrence, his wife Josie, and Jeff were in Lawrence and Josie’s car. Erol, Paul, and I were in mine.
I’ll say, right from the beginning, that many of the routine details of the trip are hazy now. I couldn’t consult photos, because they’re all in storage. I don’t remember the route we drove, although I suspect that we went from Lake Geneva through Indianapolis, Louisville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Gainesville, Orlando to somewhere near Cocoa, just inland from Cape Canaveral, following I-65 and I-75. It’s likely that some of the sharp memories of the trip are just as hazy as well. But everything here is as I remember it, with some support from Google. Continue reading →
As a child turning teen in the late 1950s, the black-and-white RCA in the living room received only three channels … well, four, but we didn’t watch PBS. So I read. Newspapers, of course (after Dad finished sports and Mom finished news). And books. The library was only two blocks away, so I spent afternoons there sampling the stack. I was a small-town boy at the end of the idyllic “Father Knows Best” decade of Eisenhower placidity, a geeky kid feeling the first pangs of puberty.
I longed for adventure beyond being a Boy Scout or tossing a football with neighborhood pals. In the library I found adventure stories set in space, spun with well-chosen words and exquisitely crafted plots.
I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” Then Robert A. Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire.” Science fiction (or, in Clarke’s case, science prediction) captivated me. I became a sci-fi cognoscente.
I just watched the space shuttle Atlantis take flight for the last time, and I’m trying to figure out why I feel so much like I did after my grandfather died.
Is it because so much of my life has been defined by my attitude towards space exploration, and because the space shuttle symbolized that?
Is it because the first shuttle went up when I was eight, I saw Challenger blow up at 13, saw Columbia break up on reentry when I was 30, and have now lived to see the end of American space flight for the foreseeable future at the age of 38? Continue reading →
A few moments ago, at 11:30am EDT, Atlantis lifted off, marking the 135th and final mission in NASA’s historic Space Shuttle program, which began in 1981. The Shuttle era was defined by glory and tragedy and perhaps even a bit of banality. After all, the first time you do something it’s exciting, but at some point it becomes routine, even if the something in question involves lobbing over 2,000 tons of metal into space.
Over the coming days, as the crew of Atlantis orbits the earth, conducting experiments and, one hopes, taking a few moments to enjoy the ride, the staff at Scholars & Rogues will be offering a series of personal reflections on the program. We have also invited some guests to drop by, including our rocket scientist buddy Dr. Michael Pecaut, who has had quite a few experiments up on the Shuttle (and is at Kennedy Space Center right now working on yet another one). Continue reading →