by Jane Briggs-Bunting
I had a dream when I was 10 years old and was thrilled when Alan Shepard, in the first manned Mercury Mission, orbited the earth. Okay, we were a bit behind the Soviets, but, still we had done it, and very soon, I knew we would eclipse them. And we did.
On that day, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut, too. To explore space. Never mind that women, including the legendary Mercury 13, were not part of NASA’s mission back then. It was a manly task in this pre-lib era. Never mind that my Coke bottle-thick glasses (in a fashionable blue metallic complete with fake diamonds) would have rendered me ineligible, I still dreamed the dream back then.
Through the years, even when I accepted the futility of my dream, I avidly followed the highs and lows of space exploration. The spectacular failures and soul shattering fatalities, the thrilling first step on the moon, the slow evolution of the space station and the multiple trips of the shuttles.
So today, Tuesday, May 22, was a day of mixed emotions when the privately owned Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s unmanned Falcon 9 rocket lifted off its launch pad at fabled Cape Canaveral. Its mission: to ferry 1,200 lbs. of supplies and clothing to the astronauts on the space station, scatter some ashes of deceased humans like actor James Doohan (better known as the Star Trek’s “Scotty,” the grumbling ever resourceful engineer on the original Enterprise) and deliver some student experiments. If all goes well, the Falcon X will be remotely sidled up near the space station and its cargo snared by the astronauts (mainly Soviet cosmonauts) currently aboard the space station.
It’s a new era for the U.S. space program–using private companies to ferry materials around. Though I wish them all the best, I prefer to hope that the USA will as a nation get back into space exploration. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier provides some reasons why, as a nation, we should. (Check out this excellent review from io9.com.) An excerpt was also published in The Week’s May 4 issue.
Noted in both were Tyson’s point that: “…a year’s expenditure by the United States military is equal to that of the entire half-century’s spending on NASA, which has put men on the Moon, robots onto planets, moons and asteroids, and brought us incredible images of the universe that surrounds us. Put another way, as he notes in a number of chapters, NASA’s budget is a half cent on the dollar when it comes to someone’s taxes. If you double that investment, the United States can do incredible things in outer space and here on the ground.”
Sure, there are lots of problems on terra firma that needed to be fixed, but so much innovation, creativity and inspiration comes from the dreams and reality of millennia of generations as they gazed skyward.
How many 10 year-olds were inspired with today’s launch?