I was the kid that grew up fascinated by the US space program. I was in Young Astronauts, which was a program for elementary school age kids interested in space (national program delivered at local elementary schools). I wanted to be an astronaut. I was excited about the teacher in space mission. And then the Challenger exploded with Christa McAuliffe and the flight crew aboard. My life changed. TVs were rolled into our classrooms as we watched the coverage in disbelief. I had a second wave of profound grief for the space program when the Columbia lost its crew on reentry in 2003. I was angry in 2011 when the US stopped the shuttle program without a planned replacement vehicle and platform. As we were in the 21st Century, it didn’t make sense to me not to have a space program in the US.
I knew there were private programs developing in partnership with NASA and that Elon Musk’s SpaceX company was involved, but honestly I wasn’t paying too much attention. I even know someone at SpaceX, and when they had successful rocket or cargo launches I congratulated him, but I wasn’t thrilled. I didn’t even plan to watch the Crew Dragon launch on Wednesday (in part because of a crazy work week). But my husband was working in the office next door and had it streaming until the launch was scrubbed for weather. I didn’t think too much about it. I don’t even know if I knew it was going to be Saturday.
Saturday after I got in from my long ride and run, took a shower, called my aunt, and was resting on the couch David came in and started streaming the launch to the big TV. I watched. And I had an enormous sense of pride and joy wash over me as we returned to crewed space flight. An American rocket, with American astronauts, launched from American soil. I am not normally a patriotic person but in that moment…I was so happy.
We continued to watch the coverage of the flight until bed time and I even got to see my friend working at SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne. Sunday morning I turned on the stream to the big TV again. Since docking to the ISS was going to be during my church service stream, I had church on the laptop and an eye on each. The enormous sense of pride and joy washed over me again when docking was successful. And then a few hours later we watched Bob and Doug (the astronauts) exit the Dragon and board the ISS, joining another American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on board. Great happiness at a time of great grief on the ground in our country.
There are things I don’t love about the new space program, including that the very wealthy will eventually be able to buy their way into space. But there are many things to love that can be easily overlooked. The entire program was built fresh and has modern technology and modern spacesuits. Mission control (both NASA and SpaceX) is more diverse than we could have imagined only a few decades ago, We have the opportunity to grow space exploration again.
Maybe spaceflight is worth watching again.