My colleague Ran Mokady took this great photo today as we stood near Moffett Field (aka NASA Ames) watching history fly by, only 1/4 mile away (I’m living and working in Sunnyvale now, FWIW).
I must have been in 7th grade for the first shuttle flight. I think I was at home for the launch. It would have been 8am on Sunday in New York, and the landing would have been at 2pm that Tuesday, I figure. I never got to see a launch in Florida, but I watched most of the first twenty or so anyway.
I remember when Challenger exploded — I was in a hospital bed my senior year of High School, recovering from major trauma the night before. Watching it live, I thought the world was ending right there and then.
I was in Las Vegas, of all places, when Columbia broke up somewhere overhead. Like most people, I could barely imagine the hell it must have been for the crew trying to keep it together as their ship was torn apart.
And I remember the space walks, the satellite launches, and the docking maneuvers with the ISS, a giant achievement of its own.
I have nothing but respect and awe for the accomplishments of the shuttle program. As Ran put it so well, we went from barely-flying wood and cloth to space shuttles in a hundred years.
The Museum of Flight near Seattle has the original big red (relocated) Boeing barn with early machine tools and half-built wooden/cloth planes to show just how crude and beautiful it all was early on.
That same museum almost got an actual shuttle for display, perhaps this one. But in losing the bid for the flying machine, they actually got something better — a full scale crew trainer that kids can climb inside and better imagine themselves on the next shuttle ride.
Imagine yourself in 7th grade, trying that on for size, feeling like you could actually be one of the lucky few to make it to space. Maybe by the time they’re my age, it won’t be such a rare and special event. But it’ll always be magic, every time.