In Memoriam: U.S. Space Shuttle Program

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. You too? I guess at some point, most of us children of the Space Shuttle generation (the first shuttle lifted off on April 12, 1981, one month and two days after I was born) wanted to be astronauts. But it wasn’t a passing fad for me. I wasn’t one of those kids who had an ever changing list of things I wanted to be. I never wanted to be a doctor, a nurse, a veterinarian, or a firefighter. I wanted to be two things and two things only: a writer, which I am on my way to being, and an astronaut, which I will never be.

I held on to that dream of being an astronaut long after most kids give up on childhood fantasies. As a Governor’s Scholar (yes, I was and still am a nerd), I studied astronomy. When Story Musgrave showed hours worth of slides of photos he’d taken on his shuttle trips, I sat starry-eyed while the kids around me dozed. When I interviewed at Rice University, I answered a question about what interested me about Rice with “its proximity to NASA.”

To me, there is nothing more fascinating than outer space. It is the last frontier, the ultimate travel destination. If I could go anywhere in the world, I’d go to space. Unfortunately, however, I’m not an astronaut. Turns out, if there’s one academic subject that doesn’t come easily to me, it’s physics. Turns out, I don’t have great eyesight. Turns out, I’m a good bit claustrophobic. Turns out that even though I went to college on an engineering scholarship, I came out with English and German degrees.

Despite all that, there’s always been a part of me that thought, maybe, perhaps, I could still do it. An ember of the dream still lived in me. “Next time,” I thought, thought I’m not Hindu and am not sure what I mean by “next time.” But turns out, even if I had been exceptional at physics, and had ace eyesight, and loved tiny spaces, and was one of those terribly lucky people chosen by NASA to train as an astronaut, I still might never had made it into space. Tomorrow, if all things go according to plan, the U.S. Space Shuttle program will hold its final launch. Tomorrow, at 11:26 a.m. EST, an era ends.

Sure, there will still be space flights (by the Russians or by private agencies and perhaps down the road again by NASA in other spacecraft), but there’s something terribly sad to me about the Space Shuttle Program ending. It’s as though we’re shutting down hope and magic and impossible dreams that maybe aren’t entirely impossible—at least the hopes and magic and dreams and “next times” of nerdy kids like me.

Tomorrow, though I am swimming in an ocean of work (see, lack of blog posting for months), I will stop and turn on the TV and watch the shuttle launch and pretend for a minute that I am there in person, that I am on that shuttle as it counts down for a final blastoff, for its final view of Earth from the magnificence of space.

Godspeed, Atlantis, Godspeed.

(Endeavor, the second to last shuttle to launch, lights up the night as it sits on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, as seen from across the water in Titusville. I’ll relay the story of how and why I was in photo-taking distance of the shuttle in the middle of the night in my next post [which, the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise {and the edits don’t bury me}, won’t be months from now.])

3 Replies to “In Memoriam: U.S. Space Shuttle Program”

  1. This makes me sad! I lived in the Satellite Beach area (about 15 miles from Cape Canaveral) until I was 10. We always went outside to watch the launches, even at school. I can still remember listening to the countdown on the radio while we waited for the shuttle to appear in the sky. So many memories.

  2. Seems like for all your love being an astronaut was just not in line with what you should have been doing. I understand the love but maybe you could have done something that would have allowed you to be closer to an shuttle program. My wife is from Orlando so I have had a chance to see a few launches. Great story….i never want to be a doctor or astronaut though it was a fireman.

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