Grounded
April 21st, 2010

Over the past few weeks I’ve been listening to various newscasters mention the impending shuttering of the NASA shuttle program.  After 30-some years of space exploration, the program is being disbanded, and surprisingly, I care.

I am not a science buff.  I care very little about space exploration, rockets, moon dust, and the like.  It is all so far away, so abstract, and has so little bearing on my daily life.  Other than the disasters, all of our space exploration has captured very little of my attention.  Nevertheless, the romance of it resonates with me.

I can imagine the 1960s.  I can picture the race with Russia.  I can understand the sense of incredible national accomplishment of Neil Armstrong’s small step that was for our country a giant leap.  And I can understand how the realization of President Kennedy’s dream fostered pride in Americans and a drive to keep striving for more.

My life has never existed without NASA buzzing about somewhere in the background; shuttles preparing to launch; satellite photos showing up in National Geographic and Time magazines.  I was born into the country that won the space race and wore that badge proudly.  As a product of the seventies I have never seen America’s superiority legitimately challenged, and there’s a certain level of braggadocio that can develop as a result.

But now we’re sitting down for a few years.  We’re going to have to hitch rides on a Russian shuttle while our own program is in time out.  Granted, there is a new program on the horizon, but it will be several years before the Constellation program is actively launching anything.  And there’s something about this that makes me a little bit sad.  It’s reassuring to know that your country’s best and brightest are behind the wheel, doing things that you will never be smart or brave enough to do yourself.  

When I say it like this it feels silly.  Much as the shuttle program didn’t affect my daily life during its lifespan, its ending likely won’t either.  And if I gleaned any sense of security from our space exploration it was probably unfounded.  I suspect that subconsciously I liked to believe that if we had the time and money to be bouncing around space, then things here on the ground must be in pretty good shape.  But I don’t have to read too many headlines to know that’s not true. 

I guess what it boils down to is that there is something romantic and powerful about space travel.  And walking away from it – even if temporarily – feels like we’re taking a step backward.  Once the newness of this change has worn off the topic of our space exploration program will probably return to the outer recesses of my mind.  But when it comes back, I’ll be cheering for it to be better than ever before.

4 Responses to “Grounded”

  1. Eva @ EvaEvolving Says:

    Romantic and powerful, yes. And inspiring – it makes us think about something more than ourselves, something bigger and unknown. I’ve always been in awe of astronauts, their courage and curiosity. I don’t think I would be able to go into space – my fear would be too strong.

    It’s so interesting how we take something like NASA for granted because it’s been there all throughout our lives. But when we look back just a few decades before that, as you have, we realize what a big deal it was.

  2. Jeanna Says:

    Having a space program does reach into our daily lives. Research from NASA has developed too many improvements in our current way of living to mention them all. Some such as putting satellites into space have made huge impacts. There are others that I could live without like memory foam.

    (http://science.howstuffworks.com/ten-nasa-inventions.htm/printable)

    I realize that at this point being able to put an astronaut into space may not matter since we’ve been there and done that. However I am concerned about conceding space superiority to any country, but especially to Russia & China.

  3. Gale Says:

    Jeanna, thanks for the link. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to learn about all of the civilian uses of NASA inventions, but I am a little. I love a day when I learn something new!

  4. Jack Says:

    I am not happy about the end of the Shuttle program for a whole host of reasons that I’ll probably save for my own post. But I get what you are saying. On the day of the first moon landing my parents propped me up in front of the television. It has always been part of my life.