A magnificent piece of machinery

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Above is a view, from inside the shuttle, of the Atlantis approaching and docking with the International Space Station. The size of both is surprising. Alas, we're in a gap between U.S. manned space flight programs, with NASA developing the Orion capsule and the commercial SpaceX Dragon capsule slated for a mission to the ISS in the near future.

It was 1 day before my 9th birthday when Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut in space. They launched his Mercury capsule, Freedom 7, on a Redstone ICBM which looped him just into space before he came down in the Pacific. They took us kids down to the school gym where they set up a TV and we watched the historic moment. If you weren't old enough to be an astronaut, age 9 might have been the perfect age to enter the Space Age.

Not long after I discovered my first science fiction book in the school library. I don't remember its name or author, but it fired my imagination as few things have done. It was a standard space opera, with the main character a rogue who, along with his furry little alien pet, flew a beat up old space freighter smuggling Vegan slime molds or some such outer-spacey cargo. 

Naturally he ended up embroiled with a feisty female passenger as they tried to battle ruthless race of space aliens bent on conquering the Galaxy. As they mentioned many times, their only hope was finding a wise and all powerful race of ancient aliens that were rumored to have once saved the Galaxy from just such an invasion.

With all the anvils the author was dropping in the story you would have had to be pretty much of a dimwit not to know the fuzzy alien pet was going to turn out to be one of those ancient aliens come to save the day. Being 10 or 11 years old I was just such a dimwit -- and so the reveal came as a clever surprise.

I spent a chunk of my youth daydreaming about flying around in rockets, and would have expected that by now we would have walked on Mars. Instead, we're still fiddling around in low orbit. Still, it as all quite remarkable. I wonder what I will yet see?