Positive Endeavours

On April 12, 1981 NASA began an incredible 30 year history of exploration, science, technology, & so much more with the successful launch of the Space Shuttle, Columbia. I was a mere 5 years old & yet I remember the feelings of it quite clearly. Watching raptly as my parents reminisced about the various Apollo missions including, of course, Apollo 11’s epic first manned lunar landing (incidentally, the name of the command module for that spacecraft was also Columbia) in 1969, I somehow realized, even at such a young age, that I was watching history in the making. I felt joy, pride, & a brand new fascination with space. For those in my generation, that was our “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. I was in awe.

History In The Making: STS-1 Space Shuttle Columbia In All Her Glory. Photo Credit: NASA

30 years later, in the very early morning hours with technology at my fingertips that, when I was 5, I wouldn’t have believed anyone but astronauts (or the people on the Star Trek reruns I’d watch with Dad) could possibly have, some of which likely arose from one or more of the previous Space Shuttle missions, I became entranced in watching NASA’s streaming live video feed while giddily awaiting the launch of STS-134, the Space Shuttle Endeavor on its 25th & final voyage into space. Listening intently to every communication, getting goosebumps every time the countdown timer restarted, fascinated by every little noise made by the gantry or the Endeavor itself right on through the launch & beyond, I found myself filled with that same child-like sense of awe.

Yes, watching Space Shuttle Endeavor embark upon its final voyage was tinged with a slight air of sadness. That sadness only fully set in for me after the live feed ended. The end of such a fascinating era in American history is now looming ever closer. The full realization that I’d just witnessed one of these incredible events for the second to last time I’d ever see it & that I’ll never see a Space Shuttle launch in person as I’d always wanted to someday did, of course, give me pause. Along with others of my generation, I’m now one page turn away from the close of a chapter in the book of inspiring things that have, thus far, played a role in shaping my life since childhood.

There are many things to be happy about in mission STS-134’s launch, too, though!

There’s the beautiful story of love, survival, healing, & good old fashioned romance between Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords & her husband, Shuttle commander Mark Kelly. Not only is she recovering well enough to make the trip to Kennedy Space Center to see her husband off today & even smiled as Endeavor made its climb into space, but reports from various news organizations have said that, prior to the launch, she and her husband swapped wedding rings. According to spokesman Mark Kimble in the Houson Chronicle, “Mark wanted a part of Gabby to go into space with him and Gabby wanted a part of him to keep here on Earth.” A good love story always makes me smile.

Another interesting positive about this mission is the innovative Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer Experiment, which is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector that is being taken up to the International Space Station by Endeavor. To learn more about the AMS, I highly recommend NASA’s fascinating video on the AMS Experiment. While the possibilities of the knowledge this device could give us are seemingly endless–including a greater understanding of the universe & its origin–I personally find the true beauty of this part of the mission in the fact that it’s being operated by an international cooperative effort between 60 institutes from 16 countries & organized by a United States Department of Energy sponsorship. A testament, at least in my eyes, that various nations can coexist & work together.

While I truly wish that Atlantis STS-135 was simply the next Space Shuttle scheduled to launch (targeted for July 8, 2011 at about 11:40am EDT) & not the last, I’m going to try to hold on to that giddy excitement I felt early this morning as I watched that video feed & truly felt like a kid again.

{Edited by Cari on May 21, 2011 to update STS-135 launch date information}

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