Friday, July 08, 2011

Launch Day

This morning I watched the last launch of a NASA Space Shuttle on a live stream online. I guess it says something about the longevity of the program that at the time it started there was no streaming or world wide web, and the computer I had on my desk at home had 32K of memory - and that was a lot.

I remember doing a research project for my high school speech class on the shuttle. I can't remember what was in the report, but I remember doing it. There were always lots of euphemisms for the vehicle: "Space Truck" and "Rock with wings" are the two that stick with me. In the movie "Space Cowboys" they called it "Flying Brick." it always seemed an interesting comparison to me, what was happening in the movies of the time versus what was happening in the world. On the one hand you watch the Millennium Falcon blast out of Mos Eisley with no notice and on the other you have a week long countdown with holds and delays and likely as many scrubs as launches.

Like with the Regan shooting I remember vividly the day we lost the first shuttle, first hearing through the grapevine and then rooting around the school building to find a television to see. Now I'd get a tweet and then look for video on my phone.

Turns out later I'd wind up with a connection to that day, not an overwhelmingly strong connection, but a connection. Judith Resnik was a CMU alum. There's a memorial to her here on campus in the Science Mall, and they named a dorm after her.

My recollection of the second tragedy is cloudier. I guess that's a testament to things just becoming more expected. Today's mission is STS-135. Would you have guessed there were that many? I might have said over 100, but maybe not. There's another interesting tension looking at how run of the mill it seems but also at how big an effort it still is.

I was upset when I heard they were ending the shuttle program. Just another in a string of disappointments from Challenger, to unit confusion, to Dan Quayle running the program. Really couldn't believe they'd let the transport program end with no replacement while the ISS still had life to it. Just a general bummer.

This past week I've heard a lot of NASA folks spinning the end of the program. The story says that the resources required to run the shuttles keeps any other program from taking off. While my preference would be to plus up the budget to be able to run both the old programs and new ones I guess it does make sense to try to get the low Earth orbit stuff into the private sector and get back to exploration.

Here's hoping the next news from NASA is something exciting and new.

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