“When this ship was first built, it was named Constitution. ‘Star Trek’ fans can be very persuasive. They sent a lot of letters to President Gerald Ford, and the president logically decided that the ship should be named after our Spaceship Enterprise.” – Leonard Nimoy (Spock)
As always, the
Friday…er, the Saturday edition combines a quote with a favorite photo. I tailor these to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme, which this week is “Together”.
I don’t know if the WordPress crew suggested this theme with the shuttle in mind, but I have to wonder. It’s the perfect theme for the Space Shuttle Enterprise, which was piggybacked together with a NASA 747 yesterday for its historic flight over Hoboken and Manhattan.
My daughters and I waited a week for the weather to cooperate, and for NASA to announce the flight was a go. Twice, we were literally packed and the bags were in the car, ready for the 6 hour drive from Maine, only to find out in a last check of the news before leaving that the shuttle had been grounded once again.
Thursday evening, after participating in my daughter’s “Asia Night” school program, we finally left for Hoboken. It was 7:30 at night, rainy, and foggy, but we were determined to see the shuttle.
It was the hardest drive south I’ve ever made, and I was exhausted by the time we arrived just before 1 a.m., but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
On Friday morning, my girls and I stationed ourselves on a grassy hillside on a little man-made island in Hoboken, across the river from New York City. It was a great spot, overlooking the Hudson River, with views of both the Freedom Tower at World Trade and the Empire State Building. It was very cold and windy, but there is a playground on the island, and lots of people with dogs, so my girls were amply entertained.
I was watching my twitter feed for #SpottheShuttle, and I saw it start to light up with excited chatter. The Enterprise was spotted off the southern tip of Manhattan. We looked up…and there she was.
I can’t think about the experience without getting teary-eyed every time. I vaguely remember shouting, “She’s beautiful!”, while the hundreds of people, young and old, around me cheered.
On her first pass, Enterprise literally flew directly over the top of us, which was an amazing experience in itself. On her second pass, she flew over the top of the town of Hoboken, a bit more to our west, so we were treated to beautiful views of her against a brilliant blue sky.
It’s hard to put into words what seeing Enterprise in flight, and in person, meant to me. My family and I are supporters of NASA and space travel, so much so that for Christmas in 1971, our parents took us to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, or “Cape Kennedy” as it was called in those days.
Incredibly, visitors were allowed to tour through the Vehicle Assembly Building back then, and my family and I are part of the small percentage of Americans who have actually been inside that massive structure–the same building which would one day be used to prepare the American space shuttle fleet for launch. I was only five years old at the time, but even then I was awed by the sheer size of a building that our tour guides told us was so big, it even had its own weather.
I also remember reading about the Enterprise when I was a kid in the mid 1970s. My siblings and I are all “Star Trek geeks”, so we were thrilled when the name was changed from Constitution to Enterprise. Built without heat shields or engines, the Enterprise was used for ground and flight tests, including tests for vibration, flight control, and landings. It also became a symbol of our nation’s space program.
On August 12, 1977, my sister, Sylvia, and I marveled as we watched news footage of the first solo flight and successful landing of the Enterprise, which was launched in midair from the back of a NASA 747. Sylvia wrote about it, and later showed me her journal entry about how amazing it was to think that, one day, we would look back with nostalgia at the excitement over a first landing.
Enterprise did her part for our space program, allowing NASA and shuttle crews the chance to learn how to bring an unpowered “flying brick” and her crew safely back home to Earth. On April 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia became the first of our fleet to be successfully launched into orbit. Her flight, watched in awe by people all over our planet, lasted just 54 1/2 hours, during which the Columbia orbited Earth 37 times.
There were a total of 135 missions in all flown by our “workhorse” shuttle fleet. Sadly, we lost two shuttles and their crews–the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, and the Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003.
When I learned that our fleet was to be retired, I was unbelievably sad. It was my vow to someday see a shuttle launch. Unfortunately, I never did. I have followed the shuttle fleet and their NASA missions for what feels like my entire life, and a world without Space Shuttle flights feels somehow diminished.
I know NASA has bold plans for the future. It is up to us to support them, and to petition our government to keep the funding, and the program, in the forefront of our nation’s vision for the future. It isn’t just NASA who wins when we make space travel a priority; we all win. The world is filled with a myriad of everyday conveniences we take for granted, many of which were developed through NASA for their various space programs. From the air conditioning that cools us to the high tech sneakers on our feet, the citizens of America, and of the world, all benefit when NASA goes to work.
When we saw the Space Shuttle Enterprise make her flight into New York yesterday, I felt the closure of an amazing chapter in American history. I was honored to be a witness to that.
Where we go from here, I’m not sure. What I do know, however, is that so long as we follow NASA’s lead, and keep our focus on possibilities, instead of the politics of divisiveness, we’ll do just fine.
Thank you, NASA. It was a great ride. We can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for us for the future.