A short while back the Space Shuttles were being moved around the country to their final resting places after being retired by NASA. I had hoped to see The Endeavor during its flyover. It was scheduled to go right past my office building and, had the weather been clear, I would have had a perfect few of it from my office window.
The weather looked like it was going to be beautiful so I waited. And I waited. And I waited.
A low hanging fog bank moved into the Monterey Bay between my vantage point and the flight path of the plane carrying Endeavor. I missed it.
Yesterday I took my chance to correct that loss. I visited the National Air and Space Museum. And I got to spend time with Discovery.
It was a very moving experience.
I know the arguments about whether or not the shuttle program was a success or a failure. Nevertheless they still represent something very important to me. I saw mission after mission succeed. I saw the tragedy of lives lost. I saw the results of science experiments done in space that have gone on to improve our lives. New technologies and new industries sprang up because of the Shuttle Program.
Many years ago, when I was a kid first experiencing a world with space shuttles I visited the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory on one of their infrequent “open house” days. As I recall they only have them once every five years.
Among the many things I saw on display was a shuttle tile heated up to re-entry temperatures. No shuttle had flown in space yet. This was back when the only shuttle that existed at all was Enterprise and she would never fly in space as she was only a prototype test vehicle.
So much rode on the ability of these tiles to withstand re-entry. I was told how each and every tile was unique because of its size, shape and placement on the skin of the shuttle.
And I looked at this glowing piece of material and was hypnotized by it.
We look at cgi-animations of re-entry vehicles and there is always the glowing cherry red and fiery orange look to them. But no matter how impressive the animation is I can tell you that the reality is far greater.
Yesterday I sat and I looked at the tiles on the side and underneath of Discovery. They made a definite decision to not clean her up. She bore the scars of her final flight, burn marks, dirt and char. She looked weathered, worn, old.
She was still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.
An era of space travel has ended for us. Another one is opening thanks to the Space X programs. It looks like we stand on the edge of a new and exciting time in space exploration if we are brave enough, clever enough and idealistic enough to grab it and, like Felix Baumgartner just did, leap into the unknown.