On Friday afternoon, I plan to watch the scheduled liftoff for the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavor from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

It will be a bittersweet time because — for a time — the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Space Shuttle program were an important part of my life.

I worked on Capitol Hill from 1981 – 87. In 1982, I served as Communication Director for Congressman Manuel Lujan of New Mexico. He was a member of what was then called the Science and Technology Committee. NASA and the Space Shuttle program came under the committee’s jurisdiction.

Columbia lands at White Sands in 1982

In the summer of 1982, the Columbia Space Shuttle was diverted from its scheduled landing at Edwards Air Force base in California because of bad weather and landed at White Sands, New Mexico. Lujan and I were there but sandstorms in the New Mexico desert forced a one-day delay.

In 1985, Lujan became ranking member on the Science and Tech committee and I moved over to the committee staff as his special assistant. Attending shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral were a perk of the committee assignment.

Most of the launches were special occasions.

One was not.

Challenger explodes shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986

On Jan. 28, 1986, the the shuttle Challenger lifted off the pad and exploded. Lujan assigned me to the team investigating the disaster. We spent the next seven months probing the accident before issuing a committee report.

A box of souvenirs from those days sits somewhere in one of our storage rooms. It includes mission patches, notes from the Challenger investigation, photos from the launches and landings and photos with astronauts and NASA officials. I need to dig it out one day and look at it.

The space shuttle program comes to an end soon. America’s commitment to space is not as firm as it once was and our potential to explore the heavens remains unrealized.

Sadly, it seems we no longer want to go where no one has gone before.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. You must have been out in Santa Fe during the same time that I was, the early eighties. I miss that area and the green chile…I went to school there up on the hill…

    • Amy and I had a lot of good times in New Mexico. I miss the green chile at Tomasitas in Santa Fe and at the lunch counter of Duran’s Drug Store in old town Albuquerque.

  2. Perhaps we have gone places no man has gone before while people were looking at the stars and dreaming of fantastic voyages. A few have noticed how often the word unprecedented has been used regarding out Earthbound problems. Fantastic man made disasters and historic financial problems just might need more attention than a black hole money pit. It’s wonderful to reach for the brass ring and imagine conquering the challenges of space travel. Let’s agree that it should be privatized. I hear and read that’s the only way for good things to happen.

    I like to look back at what the original goals and projected costs were when the program was created. How did we do, what did we do?

    This is just one random peek.

    http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/history/shuttle-mir/welcome/w-g-goals.htm

    At some point in time, reality and priorities demand serious choices. That time is now. A trip to Mars won’t be so great if there is nothing to come home to.

  3. Thanks for sharing this! Have many fond memories from gradeschool on up of the wonder and awe generated by NASA projects. It definitely steered me toward a career in technology! I agree wholeheartedly that we are missing some of that spectacular sense of connectedness and accomplishment.

  4. >>A trip to Mars won’t be so great if there is nothing to come home to.<<

    On the other hand, depending on how you define "nothing to come home to", a trip to Mars might ultimately become a necessity.

    • This subject did remind me of one of my first trips to Florida. Spring Break at Daytona was fun even though we were a little young compared to college students. We also watched the launch of Apollo 16. I had to look that up based on a guess of the date of the trip. We watched it from across the river in Titusville. Certainly one of those things that are best experienced and difficult to describe otherwise. A final launch of the Space Shuttle is a really big deal. Too bad it gets less press and enthusiasm than celebrity nonsense. It’s not too late to hit the road and see something both historic and spectacular.

      So, that led to further reading about Apollo missions. It seems pretty crude that one discovery was finding out the terrain was not volcanic but created by meteor impacts.

      The problems with deep space travel are huge when compared to a short trip to the moon. Certainly the timeline of progress and the logistics of any possible benefits (in a material sense, if that’s your point) are good reasons to work toward reducing any necessity on this planet.

      How did the Biosphere projects work out? The space colony concept seems pretty far fetched when compared to the experiments on Earth, which is infinitely less hostile than those other places.

      I’m not anti science or exploration. I’m just saying we have enough problems here, with easier solutions, a shorter timeline, and greater likelyhood to improve the future.

  5. I was curious about how the delayed launch changed your plans and how you were planning to get there when it seemed likely to blast off.

    Silly me, or a Dougism in journalism.

    “On Friday afternoon, I plan to watch the scheduled liftoff for the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavor from Cape Canaveral in Florida.”

    This doesn’t say you planned to attend in person, or does it? You plan to watch doesn’t say how or where. The liftoff location is less vague.

    There was some good news as I heard it. Estimates of 750k people in that region to view the launch. Any delay is good for the economy in that area. But then again, I don’t recall if there were any details if they were from out of state.

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