I was in the sixth grade when the first shuttle launched. I was technically alive for the moon shots, was born when men orbited the moon for the first time, but don’t remember a thing. So, I missed all the fun, glory, and mystery of it. When the Shuttle program began, it was a wonder for us all. It was an early morning launch, and my dad woke me up so I could watch it live. When it landed, the teachers rolled tv’s into our classrooms so we could watch. This was such a momentous event that the networks (all three of them!) carried it live.
This past October, my Dad and I had the priviledge to see a launch in person. We saw Discovery launch, from the closest viewing area, the one you see on television. It’s six miles away from the launch pad. As HD Net’s Greg Dobbs put it, this is a fifteen story, four and a half million pound building. It looms as large as one, even from that distance.
The anticipation that morning was amazing. I felt like that eleven year old child again, waiting through the countdown. The engines lit, the smoke and fire billowed out, and there was one thing I was totally unprepared for: A fifteen story building, leaping off the pad. This thing doesn’t creep up, as in the old Apollo rockets. It leaps. off. the. pad. Soundlessly, though. At six miles, it takes the sound half a minute to reach you. Your attention is miles high, and miles downstream from the launch pad at that point, then all of a sudden, for a few seconds, it’s as if you’re standing right in front of the stage at a Metallica concert (which I’ve done, an awesome experience in and of itself), and your attention is drawn back to the launch pad. Then you follow the trail of smoke back into the sky, waiting for the full throttle-up, looking for the booster separation, praying there’s no repeat of the Challenger disaster.
There have now been 123 shuttle missions, but each one is a part of History. There are only ten or so missions left, before the Shuttle program is retired. Go. Go see this awesome sight. Spring for the few extra bucks to view it from the causeway, not from the Visitor’s Center. The VC has a view obstructed by trees, and you won’t see it until it clears the trees. From the causeway, you see the shuttle on the pad, see the smoke, the fire, the liftoff. There were people there from literally around the world to see this event, a common shuttle launch. People from Italy, Spain, England, Japan, China, Iran, Mexico… People who understand what an awesome thing this is. Don’t take this for granted, just go.
I’ve grown up in awe of the astronauts, their bravery, the work they are doing toward moving humanity into space. As James T. Kirk famously said, it truly is the final frontier. These men and women are the pioneers of our age, pushing the boundaries back as the men and women did in the American frontier, as the European, Asian, and Polynesian explorers did before. Humanity has a desire, a need to push ever forward. To explore what’s out there. When we expand our physical boundaries, we expand our minds, our technologies, our freedoms, our humanity.
Growing up watching Star Trek gave me a hopeful vision of the future of humanity. Just as in the Star Trek version of the universe, we will likely have tough times in our near future. Apocolyptic times, probably, that will take us to the brink of destruction. From those ashes, we will arise a better planet, a better humanity. Our decendants will look back on Glenn, Gegarin, the Apollo crew, the men and women building the ISS, as the early heroes who enabled them to take the baby steps into a better future.
A future where man travels the stars, communing with God’s creation. Boldly going where Humanity has not been before.