Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery

I love the space shuttles. Way back when, when I was in highschool, I competed the art contest to give an insignia to Space Shuttle Columbia (lost of course, didn't even make it to any semi final). I was standing in my livingroom, just about to walk to high school when I saw Columbia's launch and destruction. The next day I and the other science nerds (a small number of people in my small school) were going to tune into Sally Ride's lessons from space. It never happened, of course, but if anything that regret made me love the shuttles more, so I continued following their missions and mishaps, I cried some years later when Challenger burned up on entry - this time announced while I was competing at a dog agility meet. I can't remember the competition, even though I still have the blue ribbon medallion from that day - Stella honored my tears and ran her heart out, the time on the ribbon reads 00:36:48, probably longer than the time it took for Challenger to fragment in the atmosphere over Texas.

There is and was something fantastic about the shuttles - real spaceships, not just rockets and orbital modules, they flew like airplanes, they ran on technology from the '80s and all things considered, that they lasted into this decade is a marvel of engineering. Of all things American, I was always proud of NASA, even when they confused metric and imperial measurements, sported a murderous woman in space diapers, when the occasional satellite burned up, I cheered for them; I loved the story of Apollo 13, I treasured a silver dollar with the eagle and the moon etched on its surface. Now, NASA is fading away like Opportunity and Spirit, to dust, despair and obscurity, wandering feebly with a few programs, no longer the muscle of the International Space Station but just a subsiduary.

So it all makes me sad. I hear rebuttals that it's too expensive, that it's wasteful, that we could finance better schools, better food distribution with the money and that NASA is just part of the dreaded military industrial complex so just shut up about it. All of these things are true of course - to an extent. I would argue though that NASA is a testament to the will of all that is progressive, intelligent and inventive in the US, that it was a place that in all my days in school I could dream about when my future looked like it would be full of drudgery, heartache and poverty. NASA helped me dream beyond my little town, my little family and my country, too. I just wonder what kids get to dream of now, if the stars are no longer on the agenda.

I guess this is to say that things like the space shuttle remind me that things can be better, they can be exceptional, they can take us to the stars. We can dream of a better place on earth, because every few months I could tune in and look down on this planet with the crew of the space shuttle, without seeing borders - just the great wide oceans, the golden plains of Africa and the white swathe of Siberia. I am thankful they repaired the Hubble Telescope, so at least for years to come I can still enjoy the awesome beauty and mystery of its images. Anyhow, I loved those stubby winged ships!

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