Tuesday, July 12, 2005
The Right Stuff
Sometime tomorrow, barring any delays, glitches, or other unforeseen circumstances America will return to space on the wings of the Space Shuttle Discovery. It has been a long, tough, and painful return since the destruction of Columbia.
It's about damn time.
There is something uniquely American about space flight. Yes, I know the Europeans have something akin to a space program. I know the Russians launch rockets every now and then. China even managed to get some guy into a few low-earth orbits.
China thought that was a big deal. Americans (and Russians) yawned. After all, Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepherd did that some 40 years ago.
They did it in an age where computers were considered phenomenal if they could fit in a single room. Neil Armstrong landed on the moon using technology that today would be considered unsafe and dangerous. My PDA has more processing power than the entire NASA Apollo program used to fling men to the moon and back.
And, just to be a little America-centric, the only flag planted on extraterrestrial soil is Old Glory. Memo to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee - that flag is on the moon, not Mars. We haven't landed astronauts there - yet.
Critics will decry the money spent on space exploration and whine that said funds are more desperately needed here on earth rather than being spent chasing the stars. Perhaps.
The urge to explore is innately human. Space truly represents the Final Frontier, and despite the critics, man (and woman) will continue to push the barriers of human endurance and experience to go where no one has gone before.
Such exploration is inherently dangerous. Apollo I, Challenger, and Columbia are very stark reminders of that painful reality. Yet we continue - fully aware of the perils and dangers inherent in our endeavors. Why we do so can never be fully explained to someone who does not understand the driving factors behind exploration.
There are some 2 million parts (all built - as Armageddon's Rockhound so eloquently stated - by the lowest bidder) to a Space Shuttle, and thus 2 million things that can go wrong. Somehow we still get seven of the best and brightest to strap themselves on a towering pillar of rocket fuel to be flung into space. Some people think they're crazy.
Well, add me to the list. Memo to NASA: If anyone of your astronauts wants off this mission (or any other for that matter) give me a call.
Godspeed to the crew of Return to Flight - STS-114.