Saturday, July 23, 2011

Buzzworthy.....Once Upon A Long Long Time Ago

NASA closed the door on the Space Shuttle Program on Thursday, an event marked by the peaceful, easy and largely unnoticed return of the Shuttle Atlantis to Terra firma.  I was but a baby when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked their walk in the Summer of  '69, a time when the only moon I had any interest in or knowledge of was my own.  By the time I was old enough to understand what it was we were doing strapping guys into rocket ships and blasting them off into space, America's interest in the process had waned.  Everything I learned about it came from drinking Tang and watching I Dream of Jeannie repeats.  But for Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman and Bill Daily, my NASA intel would have been utterly negligible.

I was in eighth grade in March of 1981 when the first Space Shuttle - Columbia - launched.  I remember watching it on television.  During my high school years, Shuttle missions were fairly high-profile affairs, garnering a lot of media attention.  Included among the highlights was an astronaut taking a casual stroll through space while his pals inside the Shuttle took a snapshot of the moment and froze the frame forever.  Amazing, heady stuff.

I do not know enough about anything to know what role NASA's decision to seemingly open the role of Shuttle astronaut to Everyman had in the public's attention drifting away from it and towards brighter, shinier new toys.  Maybe none at all.  Maybe what started the snowball thundering down the mountainside was not the agency's decision to select New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe to be a Shuttle astronaut as if she had won the best-ever prize to be plucked from 'neath the Cracker Jacks.  Maybe instead it was the image that shall remain locked forever in the mind's eye of everyone who witnessed it on that awful January morning twenty-five years ago when Challenger exploded shortly after launch, killing McAuliffe and her six crew mates.   The image of the two smoke and vapor trails extending upward into the sky after the craft had been destroyed like two arms outstretched and preventing us humans from traipsing nonchalantly along the path to immortality. 

Or perhaps none of those things have a damn thing to do with the Shuttle program's end, a quarter century further on up the road.  Perhaps it is just the way of the world as well as those of us who inhabit it.  Not all of the things - or all of the people for that matter - who capture our interest at a time in our life remain squarely focused in our mind's eye forever.  We change.  They change.  Things change.  And given change's inevitability it is unavoidable that for something to gain a toehold in the national collective, it must secure its position as the expense of something else.  The Inn comes with limited accommodations for sleeping after all.  There is simply not room enough for everyone. 

Even out there at Infinity and beyond.

-AK

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