Thursday, July 21, 2011

The End of the Space Shuttle Era


So Atlantis landed today ending the 30 year Space Shuttle program.

I have mixed feelings about this.

I'm not too devastated because in many ways the entire shuttle program, despite all of it's incredible accomplishments (the assembly of the International Space Station, the Hubble repair mission, etc) it was largely a dead end and a waste of time.

Let's assume for the moment that Columbus really did "discover" America in 1492. You can compare that to the United States landing on the moon on July, 20, 1969.

Now, instead of all of the subsequent voyages to the New World by Columbus and all of the other nautical explorers that came after him, suppose that the Europeans had simply used their naval technology to cruise around within site of the Atlantic coast and maybe establish a tourist destination.

That's the shuttle program.

Rather than using the moon landings as a beach head to explore and colonize the rest of the solar system, we just putzed around in low Earth orbit for the next 30 years.

What a waste of 3 decades.

But I do like the reliance on private enterprise to develop the next generation of manned spacecraft. There is a lot of money to be made in cis-lunar space and high tech entrepreneurs should be given the green light to go forth and get rich.

So I'm not worried about the future of manned spaceflight. The Russians have the most reliable space transportation system on the planet, the Chinese are moving very aggressively to outdo both the United States and the Russians. Americans like Burt Rutan, Richard Branson and Elon Musk will make space their private little money-making bitch.

There will always be an increasing number of humans working and living in space forever. We will never stop.

PERSONAL MEMORIES

+ In the early days of the shuttle program, I contacted NASA HQ in Washington, D.C. looking for information. I was eventually put in contact with Tony E. in the NASA Public Relations department. We became friends and I got regular shipments of press kits, mission patches, lapel pins, photos and video tapes.

+ John Young was the Commander of the first space shuttle mission. He was one of my favorite astronauts. He flew with Gus Grissom on the first manned Gemini flight. He flew on two different Apollo missions and walked on the moon. I always got the impression that the reason he became an astronaut was because he thought it would be fun!

+ The biggest component of the space shuttle stack is the Main Fuel Tank. It's basically a huge thermos bottle that holds the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that fuels the space shuttles three main engines. The shuttle itself and the 2 solid rocket boosters are strapped to this big fucking tank. For the first few flights, the Main Fuel Tank was painted white so it matched the mostly white shuttle and SRBs. NASA quickly decided that all of that white paint added weight and cost to the stack so they stopped using it. They just covered the tank in the orange primer that covered the foam and left off the white paint. This is when the space shuttle started to resemble a huge, fleshy phallus with some strap-ons. Kinky!

+ At this time, I worked in the credit department of a very upscale Crown Center and Plaza retailer. I learned of a telephone number you could call and listen in to transmissions between the newly launched space shuttles and ground control in Houston. Sine processing credit applications and writing collection letters was extremely boring, I used to dial into this telephone line and eavesdrop on the astronauts. PROBLEM: This wasn't a toll free number. I racked up quite a sizable phone bill for my employer. Much to my surprise, they actually examined their telephone bills, found my charges, and demanded that I pay them back or be fired. I payed them back in payroll deduction installments and kept my job.

+ There was an early shuttle test pilot who was from Kansas. He and his wife came into our store one day and filled out a credit application. I may or may not have made an illicit copy of that application for my personal archives. Because I couldn't get over how cool it was that somebody could walk into a store, fill out a credit application and in the block that asked "Employer" could put "NASA" and in the block that asked "Occupation" could say "Command Astronaut". He may as well have just whipped out a 12" cock, slapped it on the counter and said "I'd like to open an account!"

+ My dad worked at the TWA Overhaul Base for about 25 years. In November, 1984, the shuttle Enterprise, carried on the back of a Boeing 747 payed a visit to the base in the late 70's or early 80's. My dad got me in to see it and take some pictures. I also got a commemorative baseball cap.

* After I married my first wife, we planned a vacation to Washington, D.C. My NASA buddy Tony E. suggested we factor in some time to meet and hang out with him. We could even stay at his place for a couple of days. AWESOME! We went, we met Tony, we had a great time. He got us a private tour of a Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex in Maryland that wasn't open to the public. It was fun! It wasn't until we got back that my wife informed me that Tony E. was quite obviously incredibly gay. I had no idea. Turns out that all of that cool stuff he had been sending me for years was because he wanted to get in my pants. Did not see that coming. My 1st wife's gaydar was strong.

+ By 1986, I was working for AT&T. All of my friends at work knew I was a huge space nerd. I don't think it was anymore than 48 hours after the Challenger disaster that they started inflicting NASA jokes on me. "Know what NASA stands for? Need Another Seven Astronauts!" There were lots more. I won't repeat them here.

+ On January 31st, 2003, I was a divorced dad hosting a slumber party for my 9 year old daughter and about a dozen of her screaming, giggling girlfriends. The next morning, February 1st, I was fixing breakfast for the girls and waiting for their parents to come and pick them up when I started hearing news reports that communication with the shuttle Columbia had been lost during reentry. That was a very sad day.

+ In 2009, Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) becomes the first NASA astronaut to tweet from space.

I'll miss the shuttle, but I look forward to what will come next. Humans are pretty amazing.

Except for you.

3 comments:

emawkc said...

Agree. Except that Richard Branson is not American.

Superdave said...

Yes I more or less agree with your thoughts on the shuttle.

I hate seeing such a laspe in time before we blast off again.

I wanna see a base on the moon myself but fuck who am I to think about what NASA should do.

Poodles said...

I remember when I was in about 4th grade seeing the shuttle being transported flying overhead, it was on the back of a huge airplane.

I remember the challenger blowing up, I was in high school.


In 2003 I was buying a car when it came on the tv in the service department when that one blew up.

I am sad we waste so much money on wars and so little on space exploration.