I stood motionless in the conference room watching the final launch of the space shuttle program and all I could think was…
…we built that.
We, as a collective group of people, put our most brilliant minds in a room and together we envisioned, planned and constructed a vehicle that could transport human beings from this world into the next.
We didn’t do it once.
We didn’t do it twice.
We didn’t do it three times.
We built four different types of rocket ships (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle) that could safely transport people to space and back–all within less than 20 years (Gemini began in 1962, the first space shuttle was launched in 1981) and all of this during a time when no one had ever heard of a thing called the Internet.
So what happened? Why has it been 30 years since we created a new vehicle for space flight? How could we–with the access we now have to technology and communications resources that no one dreamed of thirty, twenty or even ten years ago–have stalled out on our dreams to explore the great beyond?
Obviously, the financial support required to run a space program is substantial, even when we’re not in a recession. It’s understandable that budget constraints have held us back from advancements, but I think it’s something more than that.
Somewhere along the way, between 1980 and 2011, we forgot what we are capable of when we work together.
In my twenty-six years I’ve spent many a night, early morning or afternoon standing in the front yard, on the beach or at the playground, watching in awe as an orange arc trailed behind a silver bullet as it streaked across the Florida sky. With my head back and my eyes turned up to the Heavens, I remember having the same thought with each viewing of that magnificent shuttle–we can do anything.
To me, the space program is not just about exploring the world beyond our atmosphere. It’s about the hope, gumption, failure and elbow grease that goes into achieving something bigger than yourself.
I never dreamed of being an astronaut–well, maybe for a moment or two, but only until my sense of reason kicked in and kindly reminded me that I was (and still am) unwilling to ride most roller coasters–but the conquered impossibilities of the space program did give me license to dream of things beyond my own horizons.
Last year, I had the great fortune of seeing renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson give a lecture at UNF. During a Q&A session afterward, someone asked him to justify the need for our space program. Instead of pointing to the scientific advances made by the program, Tyson said that we needed the space program to inspire our youth to work hard and study in order to become the best that they could be. He pointed out that many of the people who have given us our biggest advances in science and technology came of age during the era of Sputnik and the Space Race. People like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Tyson himself were all inspired to seek greatness at least in part because of the space program.
I hope with every inch of my heart that we will continue the space program. Not for myself, but for the next generation. I want my niece and nephew and any children that I have to grow up in a world where the only constraints on their dreams are the limits of their own imaginations.
I want them to believe that we can do anything when we work together, because we can.
We did it four times before.
And we will do it again.
Godspeed to the crew aboard the Atlantis, to the men and women who dedicated their lives to the space shuttle program and to those of us who have spent the last thirty years looking up at the night sky with the knowledge that it belongs to us. All of us.