I have just watched the liftoff of the space shuttle Atlantis’ on mission STS-129 to the International Space Station. I’ve been watching rocket and shuttle launches since I was a little girl, and it always gives me a huge thrill. I’m not sure exactly which launch was the first one I watched, but I vividly remember sitting with my Mom and Dad in front of our black and white television counting backwards from 10 to 1. I do have shadowy memories of watching Neil Armstrong step on to the moon - but I was only three years old and it was late at night so I kept falling asleep!
My Dad loved the space programme, and space exploration fascinated him. My Mom enjoyed watching the launches too, even though they used to be very early in the morning and involved us having to eat our breakfast in front of the television. (I loved that part!) I had a big poster of the planets on the wall of my bedroom and dreamed of being an astronaut when I grew up. It was a pretty big dream back then, particularly as I was a girl. Although the Russians sent a woman into space in 1963, it was not until twenty years later that Dr Sally Ride became the first American woman to go. By then I had more than realised that my propensity towards motion sickness meant I was not cut out for space travel - that and the fact I am really not good in small spaces! However, I’ve never lost my fascination with space exploration, and one of the things I missed when I first came to live in England was the avid coverage of space shuttle launches by the press. Thankfully things have moved on and with the internet and the availability of American news broadcasts over here I’m now able to follow the space programme once again.
Today I watched the launch with my son, whose enthusiasm for space exploration reminds me so much of my Dad’s. It was one of those “circle of life” moments that always makes me feel a bit teary. It is coming up to the second anniversary of my parents’ deaths - Dad died on 21st November 2007 and Mom on 6th January 2008 - so I’m particularly susceptible to these at the moment. One of my fondest memories of my parents is a day I spent with them when we went to Kennedy Space Centre back when I was thirteen years old. We were all so excited to be there.
Amongst the items carried on this shuttle flight is a scarf which belonged to the amazing aviator Amelia Earhart, borrowed from the Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City. I wonder what Amelia would have thought about the space programme? She was such a trail blazer and a huge inspiration to women both now and in her own time.
As for me, I’m pretty inspired by the brave men and women who work in the space programme now. While I may have no desire to go into space myself anymore (until they invent an anti-nausea tablet that actually works in zero gravity and slightly more comfortable space vehicles that is), I still find the giant strides being made in space exploration really exciting. I may not be the one “boldly going where no one has gone before” but I sure do like watching the progress of the ones who do :)