Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Landing #130

I watched the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis this morning, live on my computer.

A little over 29 years ago, I watched the first Space Shuttle landing, that of Columbia, live on my TV.

I was 7 months pregnant with my first child, and I cried. The accomplishment of landing a spacecraft like a normal airplane seemed so majestic, even spiritual.

Anyone who knows me knows I don't cry.  I attributed it to the pregnancy hormones but even watching today's landing I admit to tearing up just a little.

The Space Shuttle program is nearing its end. The baby I was carrying is now married and expecting his own first child. I'm no longer a 20-something, but a 50-something, reinvented multiple times since that first landing on April 14, 1981.

And in the process of verifying that date I discovered that the first landing, like everything else, is on YouTube.

It looks pretty much like all the landings except for the chase planes and the fact that it had never been done before.

This latest mission was number 132, which means that it's the 130th safe landing.

I will miss the shuttle program, which has only two more scheduled missions before retirement. However, it's not reasonable to expect NASA to continue with thirty year old technology.

In 1981 I watched on analogue cable TV; in 2010, on broadband Internet on a wide-screen HD monitor.

In 1981 I did not have a microwave oven, VCR, nor a cell phone. People didn't have home computers, and the Internet was in its infancy.

If I've moved on, I guess NASA should as well.

What's disappointing is that there is nothing comparable to replace the shuttle. Trips to the space station will continue via the Russian program and there are some vague rumblings about trips to the moon (or not) and Mars but that won't be in my lifetime.

It's difficult, as always, to justify the amount of money spent on space exploration when compared to funding needs on earth. But if it weren't for the space program, would American schools and hospitals be better off? Would the money really have been spent there or on other programs for the common good?

Funding magically appears for ventures such as the invasion of Iraq and bank bailouts so I can't help but feel that it's lack of motivation, not lack of resources, that has allowed most of the dysfunction in society to continue.

I was six years old when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, causing a spurt of science mania for the US, which couldn't let their Cold War enemies eclipse them technologically.

The igniting spark might have been political but the result was a better educated public and great strides in scientific achievement. Science was cool. If you got the grades, you studied science in school.

I completely fail to understand the current public attitude toward science. It seems to range between apathy to disdain to outright mistrust. And while it might be appropriate to question the motivations of corporations such as drug and oil companies, the underlying science in its pure form has no hidden agenda, according to the scientific method.

It was a shock to discover from my own kids that science and the space program were no longer cool and that hardly any of their peers went into science in University. It's beyond disturbing to read about the state of science education in parts of the United States and even Canada when religion tries to exert an influence in an area in which, in my opinion, it does not belong.

So now, as I watch the stock market sputter and the oil spill crisis unfold, I have to wonder whether a better educated society would have allowed corporations to fulfill their destinies with so few checks and balances.

Or was that the point, all along?


Alvin23 said...

The space program is very cool, we are reminded here of the shuttle every time it comes in for a landing. With the boom, our first thought is EARTHQUAKE and then... relief as we realize it's the shuttle coming in.

However, what I have always found most facinating about THE SPACE PROGRAM, while Sheppard hit the heavens in 61 or 62 on his heels a year later was Colonel-Engineer Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova a Soviet cosmonaut and the first woman in space. She was on the Vostok 5 mission which launched on June 16, 1963, and orbited the Earth 48 times. The flight lasted 2.95 days (=70.8 hours). During her space mission, Tereshkova's radio call name was "Chaika," which means "seagull" in Russian.

Gotta love it.

Paulineee said...

I do remember her and I do love it.