today i watched the final lift off of the space shuttle program, sts-135. my daughter was sitting in my lap and i was a little teary eyed about the whole thing. why haven’t i been paying attention to this thing more? 30 years this thing has been doing this and man, i love it! i really do.
on a technological level, it is absolutely insane. i don’t even understand .1% of what all what happens to make it work. but i do know it’s amazing.
on a political level it is confusing and strange that we live in such a stupid country that so many people believe NASA and the space shuttle to be an example of wasteful liberal government programs. but don’t get me started on that. and god help me if you start talking about private space exploration and the x-prize and richard branson, my brain will explode.
but, and on a human level, though, we put people inside a machine stacked on a bunch of other machines that are filled with millions of pounds of explosives and light a fuse and shoot it into the sky and people in different control centers push different buttons and 99% of the time everything goes right and it goes up, flies around, builds space stations, fixes things, does science and then comes home and everyone has a beer and can you imagine what it’s like to be the person driving that thing or the person who built a little tiny weeny little switch for the toilet or the flight director or the fuel director or just even someone sitting somewhere watching it shoot up into the sky and hoping and dreaming and imagining what it might one day be like for them to fly into space?
i don’t really remember where i was when the challenger blew up – i was in fourth grade i guess and if pressed i’d say i remember watching it in the library at my high school which would be impossible since i wasn’t in high school, i was in fourth grade. i think i’m confusing the first gulf war with the challenger, which would make sense to my brain. i do, though, remember being only somewhat upset, probably because i didn’t really know what it all meant except that it was bad.
and then columbia, i was an asshole in grad school and wrote a stupid play about two guys who find pieces of debris and try to sell it on ebay; it was a bad a play.
and now? well, now the whole thing is over. i don’t know what will come next. the orion space craft, in 2020? 9 years from now… my kids will watch it go up, i hope. it seems a disappointingly long time. but maybe that time will give us some room the breathe and think and try to remember why all this matters in the first place.