NASA has been sitting on the sidelines since the Space Shuttles stopped flying, relying on the Russian Soyuz as a way to get folks to the International Space Station along with groceries and gizmos to keep the joint going.
This morning NASA launched, for the first time, an unmanned Orion, the next-gen spacecraft that will contain humans to go to places like Mars. Using a Delta IV Heavy rocket NASA did what they used to do: Punch big holes in the sky. Everything worked, two orbits and a successful re-entry old-skool style under parachutes to a splashdown.
Which led to some comments from colleagues. One remarked he had seen the beginning of the Shuttle and the end of the Shuttle and was astounded by the passing of that many years. We commented that some of us recall Sheppard and Glen in the early days, the Gemini series, the Apollos and Skylab. We felt old for a moment. My colleague’s timeline was different and we have the benefit of perspective.
Most of us of a certain age remember the Space Race when the US was in a death-march to the Moon with the Soviets: When winning mattered to demonstrate the prowess of the ‘free world’ to conquer these kinds of massive technological things that had never been done before by anyone, anywhere, ever. That sense of seeing a greyish, grainy shot of someone in a bulky spacesuit stepping onto another planet nearly a quarter of a million miles away, that sense of “Holy Shit! We Did It!”
We, as a people, had lost that sense of awe of doing the impossible, but for about five hours today, we got a tiny taste of that mojo back.
It isn’t the beginning, but more like Orion is the very first struggling, hesitant steps of the beginning of the Beginning. Hopefully, soon, we’ll have that incredible sense of awe back. Our planet needs it, perhaps now more than ever.