Friday, July 8, 2011

The Space Shuttle: Our Tower of Babel

I find myself genuinely mournful of the space shuttle program. I was born in 1980; the program launched in 1981. It was always there for me.

Space travel will continue, but the space shuttle program was more than that. It was a symbol of something strident and hopeful.

The space shuttle program, in my mind's eye, was the white spaceplane, the NASA logo, the American flag emblazoned on spacesuits filled with heroes. My heroes.

The space shuttle program was the televised launches. The countdown, the ignition, the launch, the blinding blaze of rockets, the disappearing of a handful of astronauts into the heavens.

The space shuttle program was our Tower of Babel. We built it for science, yes, but really we built it to reach God.

I was in first grade when the space shuttle Challenger exploded before it could even reach low orbit. It blew up right there before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people. A teacher had been on-board. A television was wheeled into the classroom so we could watch the coverage. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Lindsay, crying a little and holding a tissue to her face.

Now, as I read the New York Times coverage of the last launch taking place this very moment, I am surprised to find myself crying a little. I will never go up in a space shuttle. I never knew it mattered to me until now.