Do you remember how we marveled at space travel growing up? In the early 1960s, we gathered around the TV to watch the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launches in our quest for space supremacy over the Soviet Union (Russia). In school, we watched together in auditoriums and in classrooms to behold these launches and take in mankind’s first real footsteps in space. For young impressionable baby boomers, it was awe inspiring. It was a big deal for us.
On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke before 35,000 Rice University students – which inspired us to get to the Moon before 1970. When he was assassinated November 22, 1963, it bolstered our determination to get to the Moon.
“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Kennedy inspired a Nation.
Space travel, no matter how we choose to minimize its relevance today, remains a dangerous business and not for the faint of heart. Only a few aeronautical professionals have been in outer space. Yet, if you ask the average American the names of these courageous few, not many even remember their names. This is how routine space travel has become – for those who’ve never been in outer space nor experienced the rigorous and exhaustive training it took to get there.
How many are up there now in the International Space Station? Human lives in space orbiting the Earth 24/7/365 making our world a better place – yet – who notices? They pass overhead largely unnoticed. Once we’d landed on the Moon, Americans lost interest in space. The Apollo launches went unnoticed until Apollo 11 when it was time to land on and stand on the surface of the Moon. The entire world chimed in to watch America’s greatest feat.
We’ve gotten careless with our greatness. Sloppy… Have we come so far that leaving the surface of Earth has become no big deal? I think of the Space Shuttle missions, and others, that built the International Space Station enabling us to do extensive research in a zero gravity environment in the life-threatening world of outer space. Missions in space have brought us technology we’ve come to take for granted. Every time you pick up your cell phone, sit down to a PC, or use your GPS, the space program contributed to these conveniences.
In the entire history of space travel, the United States has lost 20 astronauts, which is remarkable when you consider the very dangerous nature of space travel over more than 60 years of leaving the surly bonds of Earth. How many of you can identify these lost astronauts by name and mission?
I thought so…
I cannot name all of them either.
I think of those lost in our space program who risked their lives for the advancement of mankind. The greatest risk was to space pioneers like John Glenn and Alan Shepard who took great risks into the unknowns of outer space. These men survived to see space again and again. Others, such as the Challenger Seven, weren’t so fortunate who never even made it into space when failed SRB seals ignited the shuttle’s main fuel tank at 60,000 feet. All were lost. Shuttle Columbia years later would fail upon reentry due to missing tiles, killing the seven souls on board.
Apollo 1 in 1967 with astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee never made it into space. During a systems test, there was a short circuit in a 100-percent oxygen environment that touched off an immediate flash fire killing the three.
My son, just 13, has no interest in watching a rocket launch. He’s never known a world where we had not yet been in space. He’s never experienced the thrill of a rocket launch into the mysteries and unknowns of space. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, watched with great fascination as we ventured into space for the first time. We were hyper focused on that journey to the Moon and couldn’t wait.
It is high time we get young people interested in space travel and make this a mandatory part of their education. They need to get excited about space as we head for Mars and back to the Moon. The journey must continue.