'It Was Magnificent and Moving': More on Going Back to Space

By James Fallows

Last week I mentioned (here and here) the bittersweet excitement in California as the space shuttle Endeavour made a farewell fly-by around the state. Now, more correspondents in California chime in with their reactions.

Mojave.JPGFrom environs of Edwards Air Force base, site of many scenes from The Right Stuff, a reader sends in the picture at right and the message below:

Just another dispatch from Mojave, Ca, where I can assure you that nearly all the staff of Scaled Composites, as well as many other "New Space" firms, were out on the ramp or on rooftops to watch Endeavor on her retirement lap. I got this shot from the roof of the newly completed Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft assembly building. There was a round of applause for her as she went by, and much discussion both before and after for what it all meant.

It's my sincere hope that NASA can regain its footing as a preeminent research and exploration agency in the near term, serving to inspire the kids of today like they did for me when growing up. Aerospace seems like a cultural backwater these days, almost as if it's a mature field with all the fun problems already solved.

But we're just a tiny dot in this universe begging to be explored, the sound barrier is hardly tickled these days, someone's going to have to figure out how we're going to fly without fossil fuels... So much more romance than developing the latest backlit screen-thingy.

From a reader in northern California:

This was on the front cover of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat the day after, shot by Ken Porter, a house photographer.

Endeavor Golden Gate Fly-By.jpg

Up until I discovered in college in the '60s that I didn't have the chops for science, I wanted to be an astronomer. I use that wanderlust for fiction now, but nothing inspires me so much as the idea of space travel and the magnificent ingenuity and genius it takes.

The Russian rocket scientist Tsiolkovsky said it best: "The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.

flyby2.jpgFrom a woman I know in southern California:

Another shot of the shuttle -- if you can take it -- that my son-in-law took from his backyard in Alta Dena, CA. He is an aeronautical engineer at JPL and one of the many accomplishments of his young life was to participate in designing some of the mechanical parts of the Curiousity Rover, including the camera mast. This photo shows the shuttle at an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet.

And from a female physicist also in southern California:

Someone from NASA came to speak to my elementary school (in silicon valley). Of course, many kids wanted to become astronauts.

He talked about the things that we needed to do to qualify for astronaut selection and said that there were two paths:
1) become a military pilot--only open to boys
2) earn a PhD in engineering or a physical science--open for both boys and girls, but the only path for girls

My 8 yo self just accepted that girls would have fewer opportunities than boys.

My daughter cannot understand the unfairness that we swallowed and didn't even notice.

From one of my sons, in San Francisco, a photo by one of his friends:

photo (5).JPG

 
And, finally, from a reader in Southern California, with an explanation of this photo of the shuttle and its 747 transport just before landing.

I've attached a photo shot by a neighbor in Playa del Rey, CA, David Voss...  He took his 11 year old daughter out of school to watch the shuttle land.  He was standing on Aviation Blvd., (the eastern edge of LAX's South Airfield) and between the north and south runways when he snapped the attached photo.

David Voss's shuttle photo.JPG

The atmosphere around LAX reminded me of the torch relay just before the 1984 Olympics -- an impromptu street carnival.  Aviation Blvd was mobbed.  The 105 Freeway came to a complete standstill for about one half hour; people gave up honking and stood on their cars to watch.   Every tall building along Imperial Highway -- the southern border of LAX -- was crowded with watchers.  It was all magnificent and moving.
Read these accounts and ask yourself: have we lost the capacity to be excited and inspired by such ambitions? Maybe it's not too late for Newt to become the nominee. Joking about Newt, but not about the need for such Big Causes.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/09/it-was-magnificent-and-moving-more-on-going-back-to-space/262732/