I watched the next to last shuttle launch on the internet. Amazing. It reminded me how I always wanted to see a launch live. To witness humanity blast to the heavens with my own eyes. And as a child, I didn’t just want to watch. No sir. I wanted to captain a crew. I wanted to blast off to explore the outer galaxies.
Then I discovered the #NasaTweetUp and a chance to watch the final launch with another 150 fellow enthusiasts on site. I applied. I wasn’t initially accepted, I made a wait list. Then I made stand-by. Then I passed my background check for credentials, but then I ran out of time. The launch is tomorrow July 8th at 11:26 in the morning and I am watching on the internet. I know I am missing history, and also missing a chance to mingle with some amazing folks (especially the NASATweetup folks), but it was not in my cards.
Perhaps, it’s good I didn’t attend (I tell myself to ease the pain). Maybe my seat is not at the last shuttle launch, but at the first launch of the next generation space craft. The craft that might take us back to the moon, to Mars, or even beyond. I know NASA will move forward. Our nation will realize the pride and innovation coupled with continued space exploration. I know it.
But until that day or tweetup, I couldn’t let this moment pass. So, to mark this occasion, so I decided to republish something I wrote during the Twenty-five year anniversary of the Space Shuttle. Enjoy it. It tells of a boy’s dreams and a future in space tourism….
Reclining on the couch over the weekend surfing the channels, I stopped on the most unusual channel: C-Span. The NASA sign caught my eye. I paused. A half hour later my childhood dreams of exploration resurfaced for the ultimate journey: outer space.
It was a brilliant spring morning twenty-five years ago at Cape Canaveral, Florida when a new American made spacecraft roared towards the heavens. The engineering marvel, the Space Shuttle Columbia, became the first re-usable spacecraft to grace space. That launch defined a generation of space exploration – my generation.
The thirty-minute live C-Span coverage was provided directly from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) re-assembled the original crew – veteran commander (and prior moon walker) John Young, pilot Bob Crippen, ground control, the engineers, and all current NASA employees to commemorate the silver anniversary of the Space Shuttle’s first launch. The panel discussion to remember the launch provided antidotal stories of the days leading up to the historic lift-off, and also provided hope for a fellow explorer by placing emphasis on the human need for the further exploration into the unknown. The event cumulated with a surprise tribute; Firing Room 1 was dedicated in honor of the Space Shuttle’s pioneer astronauts. A well deserved tribute.
The early shuttle missions coincided with my elementary school years, the years when my career path set; I was to become an astronaut One summer vacation my family drove down I-95 to Florida to visit my Uncle Jerry; that trip we visited the Kennedy Space Center. There, on the very grounds of the launch sites, my fascination grew. Suddenly, I wasn’t just reading about space to or watching it from the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. I was there. I can vividly recall staring towards the sky in wonder, dreaming of the future – my future.
My obsession started that day. My room became decorated with patches from each and every shuttle mission. Each nailed perfectly to the paneling between the copious posters. Through the years, 114 shuttle missions engendered great scientific discoveries and continued to pave the way for future generations of space flight, including my principal childhood dream of landing on Mars. And although the shuttle will not make the voyage to the Red Planet, valuable insights gained from each launch inching us closer.
The most recent space shuttle mission provided critical repairs to the Hubble telescope enabling scientists to see deeper into the reaches of our universe. And the next launch, slated for late summer this year is critical to the continuation and development of the international space station.
But after a generation, the aging shuttle legacy nears its end and just four years remain before its scheduled 2010 retirement (now 2011). NASA based on current agency budget estimations, now expects its replacement to be available for take off in 2011. (didn’t happen). This childhood space enthusiast eagerly waits that time as that next craft gets us closer to Mars.
The Mars trip, now currently slated for 2030, was originally planned for this year 2006. But that landing dissipated due to NASA budget cuts and programme setbacks. The reason, I remember the 2006 date so vividly, was because as a child, I knew that I would be in my thirties when we landed. One’s thirties seemed an ideal age to obtain immortality with a few footprints upon the Red Planet.
Well, the timeline didn’t work out for the space agency, or for my career. I took a different path. No matter though – watching our landing on Mars will be good enough for me and if not, the option of space may no longer be pure fantasy.
In 2001 a new space odyssey was born: Space Tourism. My hopes of being an astronaut once became “achievable” when American Denis Tito purchased his ticket via Space Adventures to become the first space tourist. Since the highly sensationalized launch, two others have followed and the fourth is preparing for his October launch aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Each “astronaut” received vigorous training with the reward of ten days aboard the International Space Station. The price tag: $20 million dollars.
Unless my mega million numbers actually hit, (or rather when my eventual novel makes a best seller list) such a cost will inhibit my chances. However, Space Adventures also plans to open a spaceport in the United Arab Emirates and provide a quick visit to the edge of space for more conceivable amount – $100,000.
From the UAE, the company will launch a space-plane to the sky and when the craft reaches 59,000 feet (18km) – the very height where the curvature of the earth is first viewable – a separate spacecraft will then detach and launch towards the edge of space – 330,000 feet (100 km). There, each of the 5 passengers will spend ten minutes in weightlessness of zero gravity, gaze at the blackness of space and view the splendor of Earth below.
And Space Adventures is not alone, Virgin, owned by British billionaire Richard Branson already created competition with Virgin Galactic. The company expects a 2008-9 first launch from its New Mexico spaceport. Their expected price tag is currently at $200,000 per flight. Thus, space tourism seems feasible in our lifetime; maybe my childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut have not disappeared in the black hole of corporate life. Just maybe if I play my cards right, perhaps I can get my chance to see the heavens from above, not because I’ll pay for my ticket, but because some one will need to send an adventure writer, some one who “stays adventurous” up there to cover the story. I accept.
We can all dream. I always do.
stay adventurous, Craig
And if interested, (I know you are) you can view the last Space Shuttle launch online on NASA’s site.