I wrote this GlobalPost piece about the space shuttle flying over my head. I knew it was happening on Friday morning, but I can’t say I thought too much of it – figured I’d stand outside in the backyard and hope I got lucky, or something.
My mom and I concluded about 10 minutes before its projected 9:30 AM arrival time that it might behoove us to hop in the car and approach the State Capitol, where the shuttle was slated to arrive. So we did.
Much to our surprise, there were people everywhere: standing on the overpasses, packing the kids into the car, gathering in parks. Everyone was looking up. It reminded me of one of those touchingly-creepy scenes from World is Ending Due to Terrible Space Things movies, like Armageddon, where everyone looks at the sky in an anticipatory fashion.
Except instead of anticipating HORROR FROM ABOVE, everyone was anticipating the final hurrah of one of mankind’s most seminal technological achievements. Which we’re retiring for lack of funding.
The Capitol itself was jam-packed with people, who had streamed out of their office buildings in work clothes, driven there with their kids in vans, or arrived via their very shiny motorcycles. It was a rather festive atmosphere. We couldn’t park, so I took photos out of a moving car like a dork. Thankfully, one of them was usable.
As we were driving a bit away from the Capitol and looping back around, we heard a huge roar in the air: that was it. The Space Shuttle, riding on the back of a modified Boeing 747.
My telephoto lens isn’t exactly great, but it was very much recognizable as the Space Shuttle my generation has been seeing on television and in informative classroom videos from early childhood: an iconic image. It was nice to see it in the sky, in tangible form.
As we drove back, there were still legions of people hanging around, wondering if it would make another pass. It was a touching thing to see. The usual busy activity of the Capitol, school days, lingering over the paper: for a remarkable number of people, that took a backseat to tumbling out into the (admittedly lovely) morning and straining to catch a glimpse of one of the final remnants of a majestic, ending era.
Rumors of the death of popular interest in space may be greatly exaggerated…if the hubbub over the Mars Rover wasn’t proof enough.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour will be stuck in a Los Angeles science museum, where it will doubtless enchant legions of small and impressionable children. But it is awfully sad no equivalent will replace it.
We generally as an aspirational species and as an aspirational nation prefer to move backwards and not forwards when it comes to technology. The end of the space shuttle program is one of those bleak moments when we have moved backwards.
But I am glad so many of us turned up to see it off.