Space, the Final Frontier

Friday, May 29, 2020
NASA SpaceX Demo-2 Astronauts


On the morning of Wednesday, May 27, I tuned my TV to the NASA channel and stayed there. Scheduled was the first manned flight launching from US soil in eleven years. That’s how long ago the space shuttle program was retired. I remember thinking at the time that that was a bad idea. It was embarrassing to think that we’d now have to depend on the Russians for transportation to the International Space Station. And we had no ability to go anywhere else.

I was in third or fourth grade when I found a book called “The Rolling Stones” in my school library. It was about a family named Stone who took a rocket ship into space. Wow! A story featuring a family with the same last name as me! It was fortunate that Robert A. Heinlein wrote a lot of what were called “juveniles” in the days before YA, because I read every one of them that I could get my hands on. That led to discovering other science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Lester del Rey. My reading life was made up of exploring the Moon, Mars, Venus, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

In 1960, I stood out in my front yard at night watching Echo I, the first American communications satellite, pass overhead. Echo I wasn’t very sophisticated; it was a shiny balloon off which signals were bounced. That made it very bright in the sky, not hard to see at all.

And in 1961, we were all glued to our televisions to watch Alan Shepard go into a trajectory that barely qualified as being in space. He wasn’t the first man in space. That honor went to Russian Yuri Gagarin. That rankled, and not just me. It’s also the reason I was so aggravated when the US decided to let the Russians handle our travel to the International Space Station.

As I watched the preparations for the SpaceX flight on Wednesday, all the feels of man’s first ventures into space came back to me. I couldn’t help but compare the trim fit of the suits the astronauts were wearing with the clunky ones worn by the Mercury 7. The twin Teslas that drove the astronauts to the launch pad with the industrial vehicle Alan Shepard rode. The LCD displays as opposed to the green-tinted cathode-ray tubes in the command center.

But the adventure was the same. We were taking another step toward that future in space after a very long hiatus. Dreams of landing on the moon, of building a colony on Mars, of someday leaving our solar system for unknown worlds beyond, were all possible again.

When I was twelve, I thought it might be possible to one day vacation on the Moon. But after a number of missions—and some spectacular disasters—we pulled back. We weren’t taking trips to the Moon. We gave up rocket ships for the space shuttle, a fancy airplane that could go no farther than Earth orbit. And then we gave up the space shuttle.

It’s been a very long wait for me to see us once again blasting off for the stars. (Okay, we’re not going to the stars yet.) It got a little longer when weather forced the postponement of Wednesday’s flight. They’re going to try again tomorrow, but Saturday’s weather isn’t certain either.

Nevertheless, I’ll be back watching the NASA Channel from the beginning of coverage until SpaceX Demo-2 docks safely with the ISS. And once again dreaming of conquering the final frontier.

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