For all of the technology and advances over the years, there's something missing that people even a bit younger than me can't grasp. The end of the last Space Shuttle mission this week brought that home for me. When I was a kid, the dreams were bigger, or at least that's how it seems to me.
We were actively pushing to go to the stars. We were pushing hard. Whatever our differences, in this country and around the world, we could stop every now and then and marvel at what humanity--and America in particular--was accomplishing. These were such proud moments. Of course, those younger than me know the Shuttle, but they know it for routine missions, occasional problems (like tiles falling off as the old workhorses aged) and the occasional terrible disaster. But what they don't know is the thrill of it being new. The thrill of it being our next step into space. The amazement at what looked like a plane, but it could go to orbit and then land like a plane. The wonder, fear and nervousness as we watched the test flights, the first launch and the first landing.
I was three years old when man first walked on the Moon. My Mom loved to tell the story of how I, at three years of age, watched the astronauts taking off from the Moon's surface to come back to Earth and said, "why are they going up?; they're supposed to be coming down!" Hey, it was a decent observation for a three-year-old! :)
But let's stick to the Shuttle. For anyone who is too young to remember it (I was 15 when this happened), just imagine it. There's this amazing new machine, but what if something goes wrong? Brave people are risking their lives. They took the Enterprise (yes, named for the starship--but appropriately so, as they both carried our hopes and dreams for the future) up on the back of a 747, released it and landed it in tests. But then it was time for the Space Shuttle Columbia, may she and her last crew rest in peace, to go up for the first real flight. Up to orbit on columns of flame, and at the end of the mission back on a fiery re-entry before coming in for that nerve-wracking landing.
So imagine it. You're watching the Shuttle come in. She has chase planes with her as she glides in. And she does glide, but she really drops like a rock with wings. As they track her in and you see her approaching the runway, you can't imagine that it's safe to be coming in that fast. And as she gets closer, it's not like a jetliner with its gear out for miles as it lines up for its approach. No, it's seconds away from landing and there's no gear down. Twenty seconds before she's going to touch the ground, the gear start to come down. Twenty seconds. And in she comes. Here, watch...
And remember, we were sitting there, biting our nails and hoping nothing would go wrong. "She's going awfully fast!" "They're almost there. Where's her gear? Why isn't the gear down?!" And then down they came with seconds to spare. And then it went so perfectly, and she made her picture-perfect landing...
There's no Super Bowl, no World Series, nothing that is like the triumph of that moment. That amazing accomplishment of mankind. That fulfillment of a dream and the promise of so much more to come.
We need more of that. We need those dreams and those big things to reach for. That's missing today, as far as I can see, but I hope it's not missing from our future. It will be a better future if we can chase those big dreams! Not everything is dollars and cents. Some things we do to learn, and, at the same time, to dream and grow bigger as a species. We need that!
And while we're at it, imagine the first launch. Would this even work. We all watched it live...
And we were all thinking--or yelling--go, baby, go!
Dream big, everyone! Look at what we can do!