With the safe landing of space shuttle Discovery landing today, NASA has a 3-2-1 countdown of remaining shuttle missions. By Autumn of this year, the shuttle fleet will be retired. NASA will "be on to the next" and part of me will be heart broken. As a child, my suburbia upbringing seemed so far way from the adventure and intrigue of space travel. I was in awe every time NASA crossed my radar in anyway: the flight paths, the food, the zero gravity, Sally Ride, and of course the tragedies.
The moment my elementary school announced the loss of the Challenger, is a memory forever etched in my mind. That fateful mission, full of promise and inspiration, turned into a tragic destruction of hope, faith, and families. I had spent months following Christa McAuliffe's story. Her selection, her training, and what she represented grounded me. For a 9 year old girl with dreams of being a teacher and an astronaut, it was all too amazing. The loss of that crew matured me looking back on it. The Columbia disaster happened on the day of my best friend's Wedding. We stood around all morning drinking champagne in bridesmaid dresses and a wedding gown, with jaws dropped. Finally she requested we turn off the news and focus.Of course, she was right. But that is the magic of the shuttle program. It can rip you away from your life instantaneously. Automatically, the gravity of risk is clear. We feel their families loss, even for those us who never knew their names before they died.
Our four year old son, has found his own astronaut fascination. He is generally found in his head to toe commander space suit. He flips through children's books about space and travel to the moon, watches mission video with his father, and falls asleep every night counting the stars on his ceiling, shot up by a machine shaped by a ladybug. His fascination with space may or may not be fleeting, but I love to observe it.
I am sure the loss of the shuttle program, will not cloud his dreams. I am sure future NASA accomplishments and discoveries will be stunning. We may even make it to Mars. But, somehow it won't be the same. Our expectation of results, and the exposure of cost, issues and technology render the effects less special. However, I will stay true to NASA and the brave souls who have the right stuff. Will you?