Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. Thomas Merton

Friday, July 8, 2011

Atlantis: The Final Mission STS 135


Go, Atlantis!

I have been watching our manned spaceflight launches since the very first ones were televised when I was in elementary school in the early '60's. I had a personal interest in this endeavor because my brother-in-law worked for NASA from the beginning, moving to Huntsville in 1956 (when NASA was then the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and staying with NASA, primarily at Huntsville's George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) until his retirement in the '70's, when he became a consultant and eventually a co-founder of an aerospace company that did configuration management for various NASA projects. As Fate would have it, my husband ended up working for a NASA contractor here in Huntsville beginning in 1987. It almost seems that manned spaceflight has always been a part of my life.

I might need a little explanation at this point--I'm not in my 80's yet--my sister and only sibling was 18 years older than I and she and her husband were truly my second family. I spent all but one summer with them from the time I was 5 until I was 18, so I went everywhere they were during those years. His career with NASA started in Huntsville, AL, but two years were spent in California (1960-61), one in Wellesley, MA while he went to MIT on a Sloane Fellowship in 1962, and another in Washington, D.C. in 1968. In between, there were lots of summer trips to the beach when he'd be in Cape Canaveral. I will always be indebted to them for all the wonderful trips and opportunities I had and for their love and willingness to have me as their summer child. Unfortunately, my sister died in 1998 as a result of ovarian cancer, but her husband is still very much a part of my life and of my children's. He is really like a father to me.

Awesome!! Go, Atlantis! The launch was a success and Atlantis is now in orbit. Beautiful photography and so many more really cool camera mounts. You really get a bird's eye view of some of the processes. I hate to see the end of the NASA shuttle program and wish that we could have managed to develop an alternative transport/orbiter to be ready now to replace the current system (and now I guess I should say former--well, not until the end of this mission with "wheel stop" on July 20, that is). I don't know what the status is on commercial US programs; just haven't been keeping up with it. There are many arguments against government-funded space programs, some of which are quite valid. The US space program has given us so much more than just a bunch of neat space pictures. Yes, it has been terribly expensive and there have been failures, but the space program has contributed enormously to so many aspects of life in terms of technology, medicine, communications, science, industry, agriculture, environment, commercial air travel, in the home, and so many other applications that it hasn't been without merit. I really don't think we can say that it is all pure folly in pursuit of one man's vision.

I will be hoping for clear skies on the nights that Atlantis and the International Space Station are visible over Huntsville. On nights with good weather and good viewing opportunities, I try to go out and look at ISS and marvel at the fact that that small thing is orbiting the earth with people inside. My husband and I often say to each other "There are people up there." Of course, we might say the same thing each time we see an airplane flying above us, a wonder in itself, but those spacecraft with astronauts up there, so far above the earth, so detatched, yet so connected, always manage to give us a moment's pause. I guess it's time to say:

Go, ISS!


  1. What a wonderful personal connection you have had to the program! The news is full of how Florida and Houston will be impacted by the changes in the space program; will Huntsville be as impacted?

  2. FF: I'm not sure of the impact here. On a family level, we're just hoping that my husband will still be working on ISS projects. He was moved from shuttle payload configuration to working on the space station a few years ago. He recently told me that it's bioengineering. Hopefully that will remain a necessary component and he can keep his job.

  3. It must be sad to know this is the last flight, specially with all your personal connections...

  4. Sputnik did it...

    Pretty amazing - it's been way different than the predictions of the 1940's and 50's!

    And certainly the spin-offs of products, research, materials, ... have far exceeded in value the costs.