I grew up in the age of the space shuttle, when NASA was king. I watched regular launches into space throughout my entire childhood, and while it meant that yes, I saw the Challenger explosion in real time when I was in the 6th grade, I also saw many more missions blast off and return safe and sound. I grew up in a time when we traveled to space all the time, when science fiction had become science fact.
Then it all ended.
The space shuttle program was shut down, and the ships that once carried humans and their dreams up into the void of space became museum pieces. Seeing the space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center is incredibly impressive, but it’s also sad.
Since I moved to central Florida shy of two years ago, I’ve wanted to see a launch in person, but I’m generally clueless about the schedule. When I went to work yesterday, I had no idea about the Falcon Heavy launch, though I quickly found out from my patients, most of them glued to the TV while recovering in bed.
By launch time I had read about the Falcon Heavy and what this launch meant not only to parent company SpaceX, but also to space travel in general, allowing for heavier payloads to be sent into orbit. I’d also read about the very special passenger Falcon Heavy would be taking into orbit, a Tesla Roadster with a mannequin in a space suit blasting David Bowie’s Starman. Yes, whimsical, but cool nonetheless. I happened to be in a patient’s room giving meds when the launch happened, so I got to see the whole thing.
It gave me goosebumps.
The launch was a success, as was the return of the two booster rockets back to Earth, and the delivery of the payload into orbit. The only hitch was the return of the central booster, which slammed into the water instead of the designated drone ship. Two out of three ain’t bad. Not only was the whole thing impressive by any measure, seen by the biggest live crowds in Florida’s Space Coast since the days of the space shuttle, it also gave us a 4-hour livestream of Starman, as the Tesla entered an orbit that will take it deep into the solar system, its target the planet Mars.
The whole thing made me realize how starved I’ve been for things that restore my faith in humanity, for that sense of hope for the future, for that goal to reach for the stars, literally. The space program was always about bringing humanity together to achieve the impossible. By studying our place in the universe, we could better understand our place on Earth. By working together to conquer space we could learn to work together on our planet. I still believe in all that, and yesterday’s launch gave me hope that we may once more work together to achieve the impossible, that against all the forces that seek to divide us, we will be one human race.
It may be naive, but I’ll keep believing.
Fly on, Starman.