It hasn’t been a great week in the U.S.
We’re rapidly approaching 2 million fatalities from the Covid-19 virus and the numbers are expected to continue to climb.
News of the pandemic were forced off of the front pages after cities around the country errupted after peaceful protests turned into the most widespread rioting and looting in decades on the heels of yet another filmed arrrest of an unarmed black man died after being arrested.
There was some good news in the U.S. this week, although it was covered almost as an afterthought.
On Saturday afternoon, the U.S. launched it’s first manned space mission in almost a decade. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
When the shuttle program ended, it was a bittersweet day for those of us who grew up watching the space program.
If you’re my age or thereabouts, you might remember what a big deal NASA and the space program was.
As a kid in grade school, I remember that every time there was a launch, the teachers would wheel a big, black and white TV into the classroom. All of us kids were pretty excited, mainly because it represented a welcomed break in the day to day routing. And, we’d sit there and watched as the countdown would come down to the last few seconds. Most of us would join in for the last ten seconds and then an arc of fire would burst from the bottom of the rocket and slowly, oh so slowly, the rocket would start to inch upward. Slowly, the rocket would gain speed and clear the tower, always moving faster and higher.
It was pretty impressive. Especially for those of us who had already discovered science-fiction. These folks were doing the things we’d seen characters on the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits doing. This was the sort of stuff that we’d ready about in stories by Heinlein and Assimov. Later, we’d see even more fantastic scenarios on Star Trek and the like.
And it wasn’t just the launches. When we’d walk into the classroom and saw the TV we knew there was going to be a break in the everyday routine and we’d see people doing amazing things, like spacewalks or docking two space capsules. It was pretty heady stuff.
We didn’t watch the first moonshot at school. Apollo 11 happened during July so we were out of school. Most of us, however, watched at home and when man first stepped onto the moon, July 20, 1969. I was almost 12 years old and got to stay up late to watch.
After the last of the moonshots, NASA moved onto the shuttle program but by then, a lot of folks had lost interest.
When the shuttle program ended, NASA seemed to be an organization without a mission. We didn’t even have a way to get our astronauts to the International Space Station. Instead, we paid Russia (like a taxi service) to get our people to and from the ISS. For a lot of us, that was a sad situation.
From the start, NASA had been in charge of our space exploration. Although they contracted with a lot of companies for a lot of hardware, NASA was always in charge. After the shuttle program, that began to change and NASA finally decided to let private industry into the act. It was a move that was not universally popular. Although NASA is still heavily involved and gave approval for the Dragon capsule, atop the Falcon 9 rocket, the partnership appears to have worked well. The liftoff on Saturday, postponed from Wednesday due to weather, appears to have gone perfectly, as well as the 19 hour flight to the ISS and the docking which linked the Dragon to the ISS.
Nor is Elon Musk’s Space X the only company working on spacecraft.
Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin is in the game as are Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and other names, both well-known and not so well-known.
Way back in 1950, author Robert Heinlein wrote a story, “The Man Who Sold the Moon.” In the story, a rich industrialist decided that the government would screw up getting men to the moon so he put together a consortium of businesses and did it himself.
Sometimes it takes a while but the real world usually manages to catch up to what we think of today as science fiction.