Friday, July 8, 2011
One Final Mission: Ad Astra
In grade school I dreamed of one day seeing a shuttle launch in person and of going to Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama to "train" to become an astronaut. I played Luke Skywalker on my school's playground and in the dirt lot behind our development. I consumed all things space--library books, comics, movies, action figures, trips to the Science Museum of Minnesota, and more, like some sort of 10-year-old science/pop culture junkie.
When I was in junior high school I learned that my grandfather--who had owned an aluminum foundry--had made parts for the first shuttle to enter orbit, Columbia. That filled me with immense pride because not only had he been a part of something truly incredible (where the human race is concerned) but because he came to this country through Ellis Island, met my grandmother, raised a family, and started his own business. In his vocation, he not only provided mechanical parts for the war effort in the 40s, but along with thousands of other Americans, helped NASA sew together the noblest of human endeavors--the scientific pursuit of human spaceflight using reusable spacecraft. He lived the American Dream without ever really trying; he just loved to make things with his hands and he was lucky enough to make a life out of it and provide for his family.
Today, marks the beginning of the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program as the shuttle Atlantis takes her final voyage--THE final voyage for the shuttle program: mission STS-135. While we can debate the cost in both economic terms and human lives, the program brought us closer the deep reaches of space by extending the life of the Hubble Space Telescope and sustained a long-term human presence in orbit through continued support of the International Space Station (among many other missions).
For all her faults, the shuttle has continued to bring unbridled hope to a generation who grew up on copious doses of stargazing whether it was in the back yard on clear night or in front of the VCR on a rainy one. How fitting that the final mission is flown bearing the name of a world that has transcended into legend and continues to inspire us.
I look forward to a new era of space exploration, but I will always remember our space shuttle as the vessel that carried my grandfather's handiwork to the final frontier...and me along with it.