Swan songs for space

(David Burnett/Contact Press Images)


I’ve always wanted to see a space shuttle launch in person. I planned cross-country trips for it a couple of times; one I didn’t manage to accomplish and for the other, the launch was so delayed that I spent the time scuba diving instead. So I’ve missed my chances, and I’m very sad that the program is almost over. But here are some great images by Ed Darack in Air & Space Magazine that are better than not seeing it at all.

There’s also a link there to a photo essay about the end of the program (which is where the photo above is from) and its devastating effect on our future space efforts. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but as someone who grew up with the space program, I think it’s tragic that we can’t give it more of the national budget than, oh, about a thousand other programs that get funding. Where’s the pork for space? And I think it’s incredibly ironic that as sci-fi and dystopias rule the entertainment world at the moment, our actual capacity for sci-fi — or escape from dystopias — moves out of reach.

Did you ever see a shuttle launch in person? What was it like? Will you miss the program or do you think the money is better spent elsewhere?

— Joni, who should have been an astronaut

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Filed under Joni Sensel

8 responses to “Swan songs for space

  1. I’m going to miss the Space Shuttle. I remember our 7th grade science teacher trotting out a TV so we could watch one of the first launches, back when the shuttle was new enough to be televised and important enough to interrupt schoolwork. Actually, I remember back even further to first grade when we were learning about the Solar System and the Space Shuttle was still just on the drawing board as part of our pathway into space. The plan at that time was to use the Space Shuttle to build a permanent Space Station in Earth orbit, which would then be used as a way-station to establish bases on the Moon, Mars, and other parts of the Solar System. What ever happened to that plan? Much as I love the International Space Station, it’s not exactly become a waystation to points above and beyond.

    I never saw a Shuttle launch in person, but I tried to. My sister and I had a great viewpoint once: front row center, right across the water from the launch pad. But at the last minute, that launch was rescheduled for another day.

    The funny thing is that the Space Shuttle was prominently featured in early drafts of Galaxy Games. The cancellation of the program happened while I was revising the book, so I had to find another way to get my main character into orbit.

    • Serious bummer that launch was rescheduled! And also that the program’s cancellation had an impact on your work, even. :(

      Looking forward to GG, though!

  2. I snuck out of bed at 4am to watch the initial launch of Columbia. I was watching the Challenger launch when it went so very wrong in 1986. I was in Florida in 2006 for a launch of Discovery. I’ll miss the shuttle.

    I was 5 miles from the launch site for Discovery. Most incredible 3 minutes of my life. My sister and husband thought I was weird for crying over it. If I lived that close, I’d be at every launch worth mentioning.

  3. Oh, and I forgot to mention I work at the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Utah. Named after the “first teacher in space” who perished on the Challenger. The whole program touches our lives in so many ways, most that we don’t realize. Long live space exploration, with whatever vehicle they end up using.

    And the Buck Rogers tv show in the late 70′s used a shuttle for the initial pilot. Still one of my favorite tv shows.

  4. Jan

    We are living in a curiously un-curious time. Not much interest in what’s out there. Yet, as Joni says, there is this terrific boom of science fiction again.

    Greg, I’m also waiting for GG – yet I sighed a little when you talked about 7th grade and the space shuttle launch. I remember being in 6th grade when our teacher hauled in her TV from home so we could watch John Glenn orbit the earth. But then, I watched Star Trek the FIRST time it was on TV in the 1960s. It went into re-runs the following years and I loved how after dinner 100 or more Purdue engineering students would cram around around our lone TV in the rec room to watch the episodes every night! How many kids are inspired by science fiction? It’s a wonderful thing.

    And yes, I was watching live when the Challenger disaster occurred.

    • We’re still learning about what’s out there, just not always in person. Those rovers on Mars aren’t as fun to watch as John Glenn but, wow! They’re on Mars! And one is still sending back data, seven years into a mission that was supposed to last 90 Martian days!

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