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Almost End of an era May 15, 2011

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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There are only 2 missions left for the Space Shuttle. The next-to-last, oft-delayed launch is scheduled for lift-off early Monday AM. Space travel remains a complicated, high risk and high cost business. In the sixties, space exploration dominated our psyche. Growing up, every one wanted to be an astronaut along with being a cowboy and president. Not necessarily in that order, either. But, I digress.

2nd to last shuttle launch

Endeavour sitting on the launch pad

The first shuttle launch was big news. Big. After the moon landing, the space race was over. Victory was ours – mission accomplished. Met the challenge JFK set for us early in the 60s. Development of a re-usable space vehicle along with a cargo bay was radical. So was a vehicle that could land like an air plane on a runway. For the first shuttle launch, a guy in our group brought in his 19″ portable color TV so we could watch it live a work. Media coverage played up our latest space exploits – it was the event. We stopped and watched in awe as this 1st ever re-usable rocket lifted off. Restored our sense of national pride. The initial shuttle launch was soon after the Iran hostage incident at our embassy in Tehran (a topic for another day). The 1st ever shuttle landing was big new as well. We could not get enough information about the landing. Where, when and the modified 747 jumbo jet transport to bring it back to Cape Kennedy.  The shuttle timeline, history and more is on NASA’s site.

Over time, shuttle launches and subsequent returns were frequent and almost routine. The media gave it less and less coverage and the shuttle comings and goings became a casual event. Something noted in passing. A footnote of the national evening news. Oh, is the shuttle in space right now? When did they take off? They land tomorrow? I was not aware. About 8 years ago, I was on vacation in Orlando while a shuttle was scheduled to launch. That day, I set off with my kids to Cocoa Beach to watch the launch in person. A lot of waiting with many other people in a park near the water. We had a partially obstructed view and was so amazed to see this massive thing ignite and move straight up through the atmosphere. I still remember the shock wave coming over us from across the bay, watching the vapor trail and then it was over. Worth the wait.

There were many shuttle missions. Another successfull lift off and after a week or so orbiting our planet, the shuttle landed safely. Ho hum. Then came the Challenger explosion and we all learned about the importance of O-rings. Our attention turned back to the shuttle and we were reminded that going into space is a complicated and dangerous business.

We have learned much since that 1st shuttle launch. Technology has advanced in ways we could not imagine. Think of some of highlights  – VCRs to YouTube with video on demand, boomboxes to walkmans to iPod nano, early PCs to laptops to tablets.  And, so on. With the near end of the shuttle era, what will replace it? What new challenge will we step up to and meet? How will our lives advance? I expect there will be more ruminations along this topic leading up to the final shuttle launch. The media will play it up and underscore the significance of this event until we become numb to it and tune it out. Will you watch the end of an era live? Or, catch a replay on your smart phone on your way to a social media event?

End of an era indeed.