Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lost in space....

I always liked this quote...
"If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."
               --Gus Grissom Apollo 1
8 years ago Columbia was lost.
25  years ago Challenger vanished.
44 years ago Apollo 1 burned.
The lost shuttles - Columbia STS-4, and Challenger
I wasn't born yet when Apollo 1 happened, so I don't have much that I can say about that other than what I know from studying the Apollo program.    February 1st, 2003 was another one of those bad days that I woke up hearing news on my clock radio that didn't make me reach over and hit the snooze button for another 9 minutes of slacking before I dragged myself out of bed.  The other time before this was September 11.  In my groggy state of sleep, with a heavy cat holding me down, all warm and cozy I hear "...reentry...pieces...lost...Columbia..."  Hearing that I jumped out of bed, cat goes flying as I dive toward the TV across the room to hit the power on my TV while quietly saying "Oh sh__, oh sh__...not another one!".  I hear the audio before the tube warms up and I'm hearing "...shuttle Columbia has evidently broken up on reentry over Texas..."  I'm squinting at the dim image as it fades into view on the TV and get that cold feeling you get when something really scary happens.  The screen lights up with images of flaming chunks crossing the sky over Texas, then another view of grass fires, a chunk of metal in a street and a photo of the 7 crew members.
Again, I was the first to hear of the latest disaster, called my parents and sister and said "turn on the TV now.....doesn't matter what channel, just turn it on...."  my mom hates those calls from me.  This was on a Saturday, so I didn't have to work that day and stared at the TV until late afternoon, until I realized that the news just kept repeating as well as the videos.
Strangely, I didn't seem to be affected by Columbia as much as Challenger did 25 years ago.  I think Challenger was the "JFK" of my generation, and probably the first big traumatic historical thing to ever happen that I was witness to.  Also, it was only just under 2 years since 9/11, so I may have been callused to disasters at that time.
My school ignored most shuttle events (it was old news after 25 flights anyway) and there wasn't any organized event to watch the Challenger launch, even though a teacher was on board. I guess it wasn't a Sammamish high school teacher, so why would they care?  Launch coverage pretty much sucked by then anyway, coverage started at T-9 seconds then back to normal programming before the booster separation, "The Price is Right, with your host -  Bob Barker!" was more interesting than a routine shuttle flight.
Challenger was a huge blow to me, I had been a pretty hard-core "shuttle hugger" by then and before the internet, I would watch the news every night with my finger the REC button on the VCR to collect any news I could get.  I still have my old tapes in the basement along with about 12 hours of Challenger coverage.  Newspapers were my "internet" in those days, I would cut out everything I find on the shuttle and tuck it into folders and albums.  Yeah, I still have those newspapers, they are in a collection along with St. Helens, 9/11, and the moon landings.  So being such a shuttle geek, Challenger felt like I lost an old pet.  I didn't know the astronauts, have any ties with any of them, never met them (although, Judy Resnik was at Abbotsford Airshow a few years previously, but I didn't manage to see her).  1986 was going to be a huge year for spaceflight, Hubble was launching, shuttle was operational with 12 flights scheduled, teacher was flying, and there was talk of a journalist going later, what an exciting year!
*Oooof*  a firm punch in the gut, and it was all over in 73 seconds and that view of the big ugly "Y" (or "why?") in the sky.  I think it took me over a week before I could function somewhat normally after that.  I'm thinking it was the same kind sadness back in 1963 when Kennedy was killed?  At least that is what I understand from comparisons from those who were around when that happened.
I think most have noticed 25 years ago as well as today again, the main emphasis has been on the non-astronaut of the crew of Challenger.  Sure, Christa McAuliffe was the first of us "normal types" to get a chance to fly in space, but there were 6 others on that flight also.  Let's not forget Dick, Mike, Ellison, Ron, Judy, and Greg!
With 2 or possibly 3 missions left, I'm going to really miss seeing the shuttle fly.  Over the last 30 years I went from local broadcast TV and a VCR with my finger, to a remotely accessible Mythtv computer and satellite TV with NASA TV channel.  Whatever way I get my video shuttle fix, I still watch the launches!  I've attended 2 launches in person and hope to see at least one more if possible.  If you can go, DO IT! (Just remember, the line forms behind me).  It's absolutely terrifying seeing that bird go, the power even from 6 miles away is humbling, and my tv recordings now matter how well recorded can't do it justice.  I hope there is a way to capture it as it really appears and sounds somehow, but I don't think there is - even Imax can't do it.  Too bad for future generations who won't witness this.  What will future generations have?  Right now after the shuttle, there will be nothing for the future - at least not with the US manned program.  That is a whole different blog entry for later.
"If this thing doesn't come out right, don't worry about me, I'm just going on higher." 
-- Mission Specialist Michael Anderson to his pastor, before STS-107

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