Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Shuttle launch

Just watched the launch of STS-121, the latest Space Shuttle mission. Discovery is off to the International Space Station for a (relatively) routine service and supply mission. After all, the Space Shuttle is just a glorified delivery truck, really.

(It's a good thing NASA doesn't contract its logistical operations to outside organizations. Otherwise you'd have space-suited Teamsters floating into the ISS and saying things like, "Nice space station you got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it.")

(And really, we don't need The Sopranos in space.)

(I'm just saying.)

I think a Shuttle launch is one of the few things that's just as cool now as it was when I was a kid. For all that it represents the height of 1970s technology (quick, what decade is this?), when I was a child the Shuttle was the way to get into space. The Saturn V that carried man to the Moon was a thing of the past. The Shuttle was the thing of the present; when one was launched, it was a Big Deal. So I knew all about them. I knew their names, I knew their astronauts, I knew their missions. In the third grade, I remember, I spent countless hours meticulously drawing the Shuttle on a piece of notebook paper, following a photo I'd come up with from somewhere. I think it might have been a postcard my father brought back from a business trip to Florida.

And even now the Shuttle brings out some of the awe and wonder I beheld as a child. These days, I'm critical of the Shuttle program and often cynical about NASA. But when I watch those engines ignite, hear the launch controllers say, "We have liftoff," and watch the Space Shuttle streaking into the sky, well...I'm eight years old again, working to get every detail of that penciled drawing right, as though the Shuttle on my piece of notebook paper might one day launch from the very page and take me into space with it.


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