Sunday, 31 July 2011

Remembering the Shuttle

This month saw the final Space Shuttle mission. While most of the 135 flights passed without fanfare I still remembered and treasured the memories of Columbia's initial flight as one of my very first memories. Consequently I grew up with the Shuttle missions, to me they were how Astronauts travelled to space.

Of course besides the spectacular launches, memorable photos and multiple toys there were the tragedies. As much as I remember the original Columbia launch I also remember one Tuesday night in January 1986. When I began watching the BBC evening news with my parents I felt I shouldn't be watching the Challenger launch, and yet I couldn't turn away. Even now repeats of that fateful flight brings the same reaction.

What I remember seeing as a ten year-old boy has over time become somehow even worse to watch, because now we know it wasn't just an accident, it was an avoidable accident. We know what Morton Thiokol advised about launching at such low temperatures, and how what happened was basically what they had said might happen.

In addition to that the flight also had Christa McAuliffe on board, a civillian teacher. Because of her involvement in the teacher in space program her death is remembered with more poignancy than her six colleagues (although the others were sons and daughters, many of them parents, like McAuliffe). Her father, Ed Corrigan, reportedly held the anger and bitterness at NASA to the day he died. As a Dad of two young girls I can understand that feeling, although thankfully not the depth of the pain and suffering. I hope I never do, I couldn't think of anything worse. You don't want to deny your kids fun and adventure, but not at that price.

When Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003 the feeling was similar again, although it was a developing situation that I once again could not turn away from on that Saturday afternoon (in the UK). Again it appeared that NASA had been somewhat cavalier in regard to Astronaut safety.

As time passed the Shuttle took to the skies again, and thankfully there were no more accidents. As my own family grew technology moved in different ways, and NASA's HD film gallery allowed me to share some of the memories with my eldest daughter. I told her when the final ever launch would be, but unfortunately she didn't get to see it. Thankfully the NASA website was there again so we could share the sight together.

When I think of things I would have liked to have seen take place I usually think of sporting events, but of non-sporting events I would have loved to have seen a Shuttle launch. I loved visiting Cape Canaveral when I went there in 1991 with my parents, and I would have loved to have gone back to see a launch with my girls. Sadly the Shuttle's time has come. Hopefully's NASA's next adventure isn't too far away, and hopefully one day I'll be able to take my daughters to see Kennedy Space Center for themselves.
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