It’s another one of those things on my life list that is probably not going to happen, and I’m pretty peeved about it.
This week marked the last launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, leaving only two more launches for Discovery and Endeavor, which sound like the names of weekend business seminars but aren’t.
They are shutting the shuttles down, and it caught me by surprise. Now it looks like I won’t get to fulfil my goal of seeing a live shuttle launch, which was on my Things To Do Before I Tip Over list.
Right after “Have a Beer with Dave Barry” and just before “Learn How to Speak French Past the 12 Words I Learned in Junior High French Classes.”
Those that know me know that there’s no doubt I’m a certified space cadet, but many don’t realize that I am a total space groupie.
I’ve been a fanatic follower of space exploration ever since personally sitting in our band studio shack downtown. That’s when we were supposed to be on our way to a gig at Varsity Hall at Sylvan Lake, parked in front of a wooden cabinet TV the size of a refrigerator watching a snowy black and white image, mesmerized as soon-to-be-famous astronaut Neil Armstrong planted that big moon mukluk on the lunar landscape. He left that excellent footprint with the horizontal tread that is still there on account of there being no wind on the moon to blow the sand away.
I consider man’s first stomp on the sandy lunar dance floor to be one of the top technological highlights of our age, right up there with the TV remote, electric nose hair clippers and movie theatre popcorn making machines.
But after a decade of dramatic imagination-bending space race accomplishments that saw human persons frolicking on the moon in seriously funky moon buggies — thereby inventing the popular modern sport of quadding — and hitting golf balls (out of bounds) and putting up stiff aluminum U.S. flags so that there wouldn’t be lame limp U.S. flags even on the windless moon, some not very smart or not particularly imaginative American honchos decided that the quest to explore the universe should take the form of expensive space taxis.
So they put all their marbles, and the marbles of the American taxpayers into “vehicles” that could “orbit.” Big Whup.
Still, even though I was totally on side with the late, great astrophysicist, author and cool-talking TV guy Carl Sagan when he said, “Without imagination we go nowhere, and somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
I always followed the shuttle program religiously (every Sunday), and I was determined to witness a real shuttle launch first hand.
Standing there at the Kennedy Space Center as thrilled as a kid watching his Dad launch a toy rocket, feeling the Earth move under my feet like in the song by Carole King, watching in amazement as the miraculous machine “slips the surly bonds of Earth” like one of Wile E. Coyote’s Acme rockets that he always chased the Road Runner with.
Heck, I get a little misty just thinking about it, but not like the tears shed in the past when the dream of space flight had gone tragically wrong. But forging ahead is one of best traits we humans have, an innocent optimism that if we keep looking for something long enough we will find it. Except when you lose your car keys.
Still, I’m a little disappointed that we had three decades of “Orbiters” hammering away at building a “space station,” which so far seems to be just another man-made science lab monstrosity that floats around up there unfinished.
Like a Grade 7 science fair project, only without the floating.
And now the U.S. government has confirmed that NASA isn’t even going back to the moon as previously announced.
Instead, they plan to aim for Mars.
President Barrack Obama was quoted as saying, “OK, I was wrong when we found out that the moon wasn’t made of cheese, but I’m pretty sure we’ll find little green men on Mars, so I want us to go there before they get any bigger.”
OK, he didn’t say that, but he did say they might get to orbit the planet by 2035, and that he plans to “be around” to see humans land on Mars. He didn’t say what state he’d be in when that happens, but if he’s lucky I’m sure that he will be eating red jello, and squinting at the big even on whatever passes for a TV at an old folks’ home.
The year 2035? Reaching Mars, maybe. But not nearly enough time for me to learn French.
Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance writer.