Kelvinwright's Blog

postmodern thoughts

Remembering the Space Shuttle

My first real memory of the space shuttle was the news and build-up to the launch of Challenger in 1986, with school teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard, who was to become the first US civilian in space. I recall returning home from school on a cold January afternoon to the images that we have all seen, the shuttle disintegrating just over a minute after take-off. My first memory of the shuttle would demonstrate to me very early on in my life the dangers of space exploration, and the bravery of those who undertook such missions.

After three decades of great successes, and tragedy, the space shuttle programme is coming to an end. Just as the names of the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María (the three boats that Christopher Columbus led to the Americas), and numerous other great ships, just as the Apollo craft became history, so will the names of Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour join them in the history books. All shared something in common: they were taken into the unknown by courageous adventurers, the living conditions on board were basic and the voyages were dangerous.

From its first daring launch in 1981, with astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen aboard a vehicle that had not first been sent on an unmanned test mission, to the many “firsts” that the shuttle programme has given postmodernism:
-The first spacewalk, and the first American woman in space (Sally Ride), both in 1983.
-The first “free” spacewalk in 1984.
-The return to space in 1988 after the Challenger disaster, with Discovery.
-The launch of the Hubble telescope from a shuttle in 1990, a telescope that would transform our understanding of the universe and provide stunning never before seen images.
-The shuttle-Mir docking in 1995, paving the way for the international cooperation that would lead to the construction of the International Space Station (ISS).
-The launch of the first American component of the ISS in 1998, aboard Endeavour.
-The many, many shuttle flight to the ISS, without which the programme would never have been possible.

Of course, it would be wrong to mention the shuttle without paying homage to those brave astronauts who never returned. The astronauts of the Challenger, in 1986, and Columbia, in 2003. Prior to Challenger, NASA had never lost an astronaut in flight, and perhaps we had all forgotten the courage it took to go into space, and become the adventurers of the postmodern era. As President Reagan said after the Challenger disaster: “We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.”

The shuttle programme has changed the way that we live and work in space. Large payloads can be taken into orbit, repaired, refurbished, even brought back to Earth. More people than ever before can travel into space, paving the way for space tourism, due to begin in 2012. The pioneers of the Atlantis shuttle will, after this last flight, be the last Space Shuttle pioneers. Other space pioneers are aboard the ISS as I write, circling above our heads, advancing our understanding of the cosmos. There will be many more space pioneers after them. My brief memory here is formed from neither a scientific, nor journalistic point of view. I was just one more witness in history to the endeavours of human exploration achievement.

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July 8, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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