Image NASA: Bill IngallsWatching the Space Shuttle launch brought back lots of memories and I was thrilled that Mr. C, Miss M and Miss A were able to watch history today. I wish we could have been in Florida to see it live because I'm sure that, while this is the end of an era of space exploration, it will open up space in new ways.
My husband grew up in the Houston area, a stone's throw from NASA's Johnson Space Center. He went to high school with Astronaut's kids and lived in a neighborhood where they lived. As a result, he has a vivid memory of not only watching NASA TV in his living room for successful flights, but has the date of the Challenger Disaster burned in his memory. He still talks about coming home from UT that weekend and nearly losing it when he saw the flag atop the McDonnell Douglas building lit up at half staff.
I grew up in the Midwest miles from either Houston or Florida, but I can remember watching the news whenever NASA took flight and was glued to the television on the freshman dorm when Challenger blew up. I had watched it live in a classroom setting and then rushed home to see the coverage.
When Mr. C was just a little boy, he would talk about his desire to be an astronaut and go the Moon or Mars in a Rocket Ship. I wasn't even sure how he knew about Space. He would devour books with pictures of the planets and rocket ships. He might have been the only three year old who could name all the planets in order. He was an astronaut for Halloween one year with a milk jug air tank and a silverware drawer on his chest to stimulate the electronic panel on the space suit. Still my husband's favorite Halloween costume.
When he was in Kindergarten, we watched Columbia takeoff. He counted down the days until they would return from earth. He drew pictures of the rocket in his kindergarten journal, and talked of his hope one day to join the space mission.
When the Columbia blew up on re-entry that Saturday morning, we had just turned on the TV to watch it live and to cheer on another successful mission. As P figured out something was very wrong when contact was lost, I shuttled Mr C to another room to play trains until we could figure out if another disaster had occurred. We knew the news would shatter him and it did. His Kindergarten journal from the days following the disaster show a sky filled with fire and raining down pieces of the rocket. Above the picture he wrote in his own kid write, "they went to God, not home."
A few months later, Mr C told us he was rethinking his future. he thought maybe its wasn't safe to be an astronaut and maybe he should now focus on building Rockets and Space Shuttles that would be safe. He told us that's what an Aerospace Engineer does for a job ( I told you that he read a lot of space books) and he thought that was a safe way to change space. Maybe he'd design a Hovercraft to make commuting and travel quicker.
Now who knows if that dream will become reality, if he'll become an Aerospace Engineer or an Astrophysicist, or a Anesthesiologist. That's still unknown, but NASA helped to nurture that dream. The shuttle program opened up a world to him that he might not have known otherwise.
We'll miss seeing the rocket boasters drop away from the shuttle. We'll miss the calm voice of the man who counts down, but we know deep down that Space is still the final frontier and we've got lots still to explore. I know one young man who might want a piece of that journey.