Posted by: Jeff Rhodes | February 15, 2010

Reach for the Stars

On April 12, 1981 I watched my first Space Shuttle launch.  The very first flight of Columbia had been delayed a number of times and finally flew that day.  I was six, and it had been about that many years since there had been an American astronaut in space.  Remembering that event, I’m sure I felt what my father and his generation felt about watching the Apollo 8 broadcast from the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968.

In April of 1983 I again watched as Challenger, NASA’s second space shuttle orbiter, flew for the first time.  I remember the discussion that Challenger was lighter and more powerful than Columbia and could carry more payload to a higher orbit – attributes necessary for future construction projects in space.  Soon NASA had four flying space shuttles and I was hooked on the space program.  It was the coolest thing in the world and became the topic of my reading, my research papers, and my modeling projects.

In January of 1986, I was in the lunchroom at Cartersville Elementary.  As we were leaving, I heard that the Challenger had exploded.  Back in the classroom, we turned on the TV and watched the news coverage of the accident for much of the remaining afternoon.

In February, 2003, I was in Orlando, Florida.  Now an adult, I was attending a ground training class in the process of obtaining my instrument pilot rating.   During the morning of the first day, the class was informed that the Shuttle Columbia had been lost on re-entry over Texas.  I quickly found a TV and remained glued to the news for the rest of the day, whenever I could.

Last week I was up at 4:00 in the morning to watch the Shuttle Endeavour, Challenger’s replacement, make what will probably be the last night liftoff of the shuttle program.  NASA’s third flying shuttle, Discovery, made both famous “return to space” flights following both of the program’s accidents, and will make the very last space shuttle flight in September of this year.

As we look forward to space flight in the future, the picture is a bit cloudy.  The follow-on manned space vehicle program that was to follow the shuttle program at NASA has been cancelled.  We will now service the International Space Station – which Americans largely built and paid for – with Russian rockets.  Will my son have a world where there are astronauts?  What will become of private space ventures and spacecraft?  Is there any viable future in “corporate” space travel?  Maybe so.  I am hopeful.

Until then, I will watch each of the remaining four shuttle missions with as much enthusiasm as I did when I was a kid.   I will continue to dream of flying in space, even while I pursue more mundane things here on Earth.

I encourage you to go to www.space.com and watch for yourself.

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