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America is back in space


June 4, 2020

When I was a wee lad, my mother would roust me out of bed at oh-dark-thirty and sit me in front of our black-and-white television so that I could see, with my own eyes, history being made. Being not only a second or third grader, but also half asleep, I don’t recall which specific Mercury launches I saw, but I am fairly certain I saw John Glenn’s Freedom 7 launch.

When a buddy stayed over on a Friday night, we stayed up late and–I remember this clearly–watched a program showing the launch failures that a hurried NASA pushed, rocket after rocket lifting a few feet, then toppling in a gigantic fireball.

Mercury, Gemini and Apollo succeeded in President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put American astronauts on the moon, and in July, 1969, I was at church camp when Neil Armstrong uttered his famous “Giant Leap” phrase and started making footprints on the gray powdery soil.

Last Saturday was another milestone for America. Space X launched successfully, carrying Bob and Doug safely into earth orbit and docking with the International Space Station. (The ISS frequently can be observed in the night sky, a fast-moving, bright dot of light. NASA has a website that can help you find when and where to look some evening.)

It was thrilling that something notable was happening in our country.

NASA hasn’t launched anything for nine years since the last shuttle mission. Since then, we have thumbed rides with the Russians.

The Dragon launched, riding a fireball into the sky and giving us Sixties survivors quite a thrill.

The technology allows a number of remarkable things: we actually watched the astronauts in the capsule, strapped in and helmeted, pushing buttons and eating Space Food Sticks (just kidding).

Cameras also showed the view from outside the rocket as it turned and burned and shed its first stage.

And there’s an incredible thing: NASA used to let the discarded rocket components fall back into the ocean. Space X’s first stage returned to a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, landing on a heliport-sized spot on its own legs. Phenomenal!

A NASA spokesman and a Space X spokeswoman took the place of Walter Cronkhite and Frank Borman, explaining each phase and activity to us landlubbers.

About fifteen minutes into the flight, the ship was deemed to be in low earth orbit, and it was time for Doug and Bob (ha, ha, NASA and Space X, we get the SCTV “Doug and Bob McKenzie” reference) to get about eight hours of sleep.

Sleep? You are blasted into space on a Roman candle and Mission Control expects you to sleep?

It’s encouraging that something positive got some airplay on the national news last weekend, although it was short lived.

Rioters have been looting and burning in protests across our land, and the news media fanned those flames. (I didn’t know Al Sharpton lived in Minneapolis. He was there, the news reported, helping that community deal with an abhorrent situation. According to Google, Sharpton lives in Brooklyn. What on earth was he there for, if not to simply make matters worse and exploit the volatile situation.)

For a few moments, American’s could again point to something positive and be proud.

Sir Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Giants like Shepard, Glenn, Grissom, White and Young, Slayton–all those guys whose “Right Stuff” made man’s dreams reality.


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