Friday, July 8, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Final Space Shuttle Launch

I opened my first savings account to go to Space Camp.  I was of the generation captivated by the movie of the same name.  As were all my peers in the advanced program.  We were convinced we would be the kids accidentially launched into space, and equally convinced we could conquer/save the world.

Sometimes life gets in the way of big dreams.  I never went to space camp, never studied aeronautics, never became an astronaut (nor anything close).  I did, however, retain a passion for all things related to NASA.

I didn't see the Challenger exposion live, but I saw it replayed countless times.  I was watching television the morning that Columbia was due to land, and followed the news that contact had been lost and debris was turning up in a large swath across the land.

I went through a phase where I stopped following the shuttle launches and landings.  I also stopped going to bookstores, started watching MTV and rap music, and started internet dating.  It was the year I quit my postdoc to teach as an adjunct as my sole source of income, and looking back, I think I was attempting to deny my passion for science as a way to justify the decisions I had made to leave research.

Then I found NASA TV.  NASA has got to be the most transparent organization on the planet.  Who else allows cameras to be trained on them while they work, every minute of every day (and night)?  Would you let someone train a camera on you, with a commentator interpreting your actions, while you do your day-to-day work?

NASA TV makes watching launches and landings incredibly easy to observe.  I turned on the Discovery landing while teaching a lab one afternoon, so as my students were learning muscle insertions, we were also casually discussing space shuttles.  Some of students were surprised to know that you could watch the missions on the NASA website, and many of the students in the class weren't even aware that a space shuttle had been on a space mission.  It became an unexpected teachable moment.

This morning was the final launch of the space shuttle program.  I, like many people I know, don't agree with ending the shuttle program.  I, like many people I know, wish that wasn't the state of affairs.  But if they were launching the last shuttle, I was going to make darn sure I, and probably my daughter, would be watching it.

Wednesday I saw a tweet from our local Science Center that they would be streaming the launch live.  I thought that would be the perfect place to go watch the last shuttle launch.  Surrounded with science lovers and geeks and people who love the space shuttle and the shuttle program.  Maybe there would be some tears, or stories, or sharing.  I thought it would be great.

And if that's what had actually happened, it probably would have been great.  Alas, though, I'm a romantic at heart.  The room was not filled with space geeks and science lovers.  The room was filled with screaming children and harried parents, including my Wee One and myself.

Day 2 of potty training was going well.  She wanted Dora panties, and had been staying dry, so we went to the potty when we first got there.  She didn't like the big potty, and was excited about being at the Science Center, so she didn't really stay still long enough to do anything.  A few minutes later she mentioned the potty again, so off we ran to use the potty.  Same story.  Then in an exhibit about animals she said "I go potty" and I threw her up on my hip to run (we were the farthest distance on that floor from the potty, and I wanted to hurry).  Halfway to the bathroom I felt wetness on my shirt ... she had peed, through her panties, and on me.

But again, she wouldn't pee on the big potty.  So after changing panties and washing hands, we went to watch the shuttle launch.

I was SO EXCITED to see the tweet from NASA this morning that they released the Android app. That way if something went screwy at the science center, I could still watch on my phone. The regular video stream didn't work well, but the alternate strream did, so I thought I was all set.

So in the crowded room, with a kid who wouldn't potty but had peed on me, with talking/crying/screaming kids and parents trying to wrestle their kids to sit still, go sit with mommy/daddy, or walk without stepping on anyone, we try to watch the shuttle launch.  For the previous shuttle launch, I was alone in my office, with headphones in.  I could hear everyone on the comms, I could hear the Nasa TV commentator, I could hear everything that happened to build up to the launch.  But I was alone.  Today, I wasn't alone.  But I couldn't hear.  I tried clicking on the video in the app.  Nothing.  I don't know if it was overloaded with users or what happened, but I was pretty pissed about the failure of the app to show the launch. 

The kids in the room shouted the countdown.  Finally, my Wee One settled on my lap.  Finally, the liftoff.  I tried not to cry.  I tried to force my breathing to be regular and not ragged.  I wasn't in a room with space geeks.  I wasn't in a room with people who all know and revere the history of the space program.  I'm here with children and parents who care about their children.  I'm here with someone in this room who might open a savings account to save money to go to Space Camp.  Perhaps this moment changes the life of someone in this room.  Perhaps this moment changes the life of one of these children.

So, as always, watching the launch changes things.  Changes perspective.  From now on that perspective will be changed by the Russians.  Or by companies like Virgin that will rent the NASA space/equipment/resources to try to make something better/cheaper/smarter.  Or by .... whatever the next thing is.

After letting my kid run through more of the science center, after she peed all over the seat in the bus in the playroom, after I gave up and put an effing diaper on her and cleaned off said bus seat, after she played in the water area and got soaked, after I put her in the sling to carry her butt out of there, after we went through McD to get chicken nuggets... I looked up at the sky.  It felt anticlimactic.  It felt like I'd "missed" it, even though I sat there and watched it on a big screen TV.

I've come a long way since the Space Camp movie, since 6th grade and Challenger, since planning to be an astronaut.  I really don't know what the future is for NASA, and I hope that they have vision and direction and support.  But I do know that the space shuttle program has influenced and affected many, many lives.  Today was no exception.

Waiting patiently in the parking lot

Not waiting on the pedestrian walkway to the museum

Self portrait

Admission bracelet

Staking out our seats early in the viewing room.

To watch the launch here

About 20 seconds after this photo was taken, this seat was flooded with pee.  Whoops!

More NASA stuff

Oh, look, water play.  (Moth to a flame).

Very sleepy, zoned out kid.

Closeup of the sleepy face.

No comments: