Amidst all the running around from here, there, and everywhere that I do, I have a tendency to allow certain news and current events slip by unnoticed lately. This leaves me completely unaware that I’m missing out on something that doesn’t directly affect me at the moment.
Wednesday wasn’t very much different as I was going about my day just doing what I do (and doing it awesomely). But through a twist of fate, and scheduling, I got to be face-to-face with a turning point in our history as a nation.
I was on a flight going to Washington DC’s Dulles International Airport when some salt’n’pepper-in-a-suit asked me midflight if the Discovery was still on the ground at Dulles. I just gave him a deer in headlights look with a shrug of the shoulders saying “I dunno”, while thinking “Mister, I have absolutely no clue what the hell you’re talking about”. For months now, I have been well aware of the scaling back of our American space program and the NASA budget cuts. Hearing about it upset and concerned me. So many advances in technology and innovation have been brought about through the work done by NASA and their affiliates. I have personally experienced the effects of a shaky economy and understand spending needs to be cut here and there, but how are we supposed to stay a technologically advanced nation when we don’t support those who cultivate the knowledge that keeps us on the cutting edge? But besides all that…why is that dude asking me about a space shuttle?
As it turns out, on April 18, 2012, I discovered that there actually was something of importance happening that day, besides the fact that I had to work. And since I’ve neglected my one-on-one time with Wolf Blitzer for quite a few weeks, I was completely unaware of it.
After my encounter with the suit in 5A, I started wondering “Isn’t the space shuttle in Florida? How would they even get it to Dulles?”
Well….funny I should ask. Cause I got my answer once we landed.
As we were pulling into our gate at Dulles, our captain announced that the space shuttle Discovery was on our left…sitting on top of a 747.
A SPACE SHIP WAS SITTING ON TOP OF A PLANE!
A VEHICLE THAT HAS LEFT THE GRAVITATIONAL PULL OF OUR TERRESTRIAL SPHERE AND MEANDERED ITS WAY HERE AND THERE WITHIN OUR GALAXY IS STRAPPED ONTO A BOEING 747…. And awaiting its gallant entrance into the Smithsonian for a well-deserved retirement.
I have to say it was indescribably surreal to see in person.
As we gawked through the windows of our miniscule Embraer 190 at this product of human ingenuity that’s been ferried over from Florida, I found it ironic that we were sitting in our fickle Brazilian aircraft that is well known for her “temperamental days” which tend to produce maintenance delays (clearly not a product of NASA) while glimpsing upon something that’s been to space several times.
The rain droplets on the windows and the overcast clouds almost seemed to be placed there for dramatic emphasis as we observed the scorch marks still on the shuttle attained from its screaming reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. What will the retirement of the Discovery and the cutbacks at NASA truly mean for America’s capabilities of being a technological powerhouse? So many things have come out of the developments made through the space program that benefit our everyday lives. Artificial limbs, LED technology used to improve localized blood circulation and decrease symptoms of bone atrophy, multiple sclerosis, diabetic complications, and even Parkinson’s disease, enriched baby food, your Temperapedic mattress (which I am personally not a fan of…sorry NASA), and even your car tires! Agriculture has also benefitted from NASA’s work along with environmental advancements in reducing pollution, water purification, and let’s not forget the ingenuity that brought us freeze dried pizza! (For those of you that have taken grade school field trips to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago…You know that was the best thing a $5 could buy you at the gift shop) Here is a laundry list, which is by no means exhaustive, of the benefits we’ve enjoyed thanks to the innovations of our space program. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spin-off
Thanks to the thoughtfulness of Captain Law, who took it upon himself to coordinate with ground control, we got to do a drive by and pull our plane right up next to the Discovery to take some pictures and pay homage to one of America’s last space chariots (only for now I hope).
Last night I looked up some facts about the Discovery and found that her career started the same year I was born, 1984. This makes me feel even more sentimental and contemplative about witnessing the end of the era of our space shuttle program.
Here’s some quick facts about our retiring starlet:
First Flight: August 30, 1984
Flown 149 million miles in 39 missions
Completed 5,830 orbits
Spent a cumulative 365 days in orbit during her 27 year career
Flown more flights than any other Orbiter Shuttle
After the Challenger and Columbia disasters, it was the first shuttle to go back to space each time afterwards
It launched the Hubble Telescope
And it’s had many more milestones that helped contribute to our knowledge of what’s within and outside Earth’s atmosphere.