A week ago we were shocked to learn that Sally Ride died from pancreatic cancer. We quickly shared memories with one another – whether they were of her first spaceflight, getting her autograph, or participating in a Sally Ride Science event.
Not only was Sally Ride just 25 when she was selected as a member of the first Shuttle class of Astronauts, she was also one of a handful of women chosen for the first time to be a NASA Astronaut. When she was the first American woman to fly in space in 1983 she became broke down barriers that people today don’t even question.
I “discovered” human spaceflight in late 1985 as a fifth grader. Sally Ride being the first woman to fly in space was a reality that I didn’t examine. It simply was what it was. The thought that I couldn’t become an astronaut because I was a girl never crossed my mind. And honestly, until her death I didn’t realize that it was only a period of two years between her first flight and the birth of my dream to become an astronaut. What if I discovered spaceflight three years earlier? Would society have taught me it was something not for girls? What if I was born in the 60s? Would I not be an aerospace engineer today? I am who I am because of how history was shaped. What if just one of the Mercury 13 members had been chosen by NASA? Who would they have inspired to reach for the stars?
While I never attributed Sally Ride for directly inspiring me, without a doubt she was part of the NASA that did inspire me to follow my dreams.
Now the question is how did Sally Ride inspire you?
Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the Houston Premiere of “A Smile As Big As the Moon” at Space Center Houston. The movie will be shown January 29th, 2012 on ABC and is a Hallmark Hall of Fame feature. There will be a virtual tweetup on twitter during the Eastern/Central viewing time of the movie on January 29th. You can follow along and join in the fun using the hashtag #smilemovie. Also, Space Camp (@spacecampusa) will be tweeting differences between the book and the movie.
The movie is based on a true story (and book) about a special education teacher who takes the first group of special needs students to Space Camp. Book Description (from Amazon):
“Mike Kersjes always believed that his students could do anything—even attend the prestigious Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, where some of America’s best and brightest high school students compete in a variety of activities similar to those experienced by NASA astronauts training for space shuttle missions. The challenge was convincing everyone else that the kids in his special education class, with disabilities including Tourette’s syndrome, Down’s syndrome, dyslexia, eating disorders, and a variety of emotional problems, would benefit from the experience and succeed. With remarkable persistence, Kersjes broke down one barrier after another, from his own principal’s office to the inner sanctum of NASA, until Space Camp finally opened its doors. After nine months of rigorous preparation, Kersjes’s class arrived at Space Camp, where they turned in a performance beyond everyone’s expectations.”
I wanted to share this movie with you because it gets to the core of inspiration, motivation, and dreams. I’ve always been a believer that anyone can do anything if provided the opportunity. While over the years I’ve become less of a believer in this statement, this movie brought a smile to my face and reminded me of my own space dreams and ambitions. I was very lucky to have gotten the chance to attend Space Academy Level II when I was a sophomore in High School. It was (at that time) 8 days of non-stop learning, teamwork, fun, and it all culminated in a 24 hour space mission involving the shuttle, a space station, and of course included EVAs.
For years I had wanted to attend Space Camp and my parents simply could not afford such an expensive venture. I had never been to any camp whatsoever in fact. Back in the days before we had this thing called the world wide web you used what still exists today – a library. I used the library to get contact information for NASA and for Space Camp so I could learn all that I could about how to become an astronaut. Somewhere along the way I learned that you could apply for a scholarship to Space Camp by writing an essay that was on one of their featured topics for the year. I applied three times for a scholarship. And on that third try I still remember being the one to get the mail as soon as it arrived and a thick envelope was addressed to me from Space Camp. I do believe I screamed out various sentiments of joy that day.
After Thanksgiving in 1991, I went off to Space Camp and a dream came true. What I did not realize before going was that the experience was more than just a week at camp or learning that I could do anything. I walked away from Space Camp feeling for the first time in my life that I belonged. And that meant the world to me. I learned there were others like me passionate about space exploration with the desire to learn all they could. Those who dreamed about being scientists, engineers, or even astronauts. Those who wanted to make a difference in the world. It wasn’t until I attended Purdue for my B.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering that I again felt this sense of belonging. After graduation I continued to belong when I moved to Houston to work at NASA Johnson Space Center and that belonging hasn’t left me ever since. I returned to Space Camp in 1996 as a counselor. It was my turn to give back.
That’s what Space Camp gave me. A family. I still keep in touch with friends I made during my space camp experiences including one of my counselors from 1991, friends from 1991, and fellow counselors from 1996.
I hope you’ll tune into the movie because it truly is inspiring.
Is there such a thing as having too much passion? For wanting to change the world, one space vehicle at a time?
We are engineers. We work at NASA or for a NASA contractor. The programs we slave away on are given unrealistic budgets and schedules and we are the ones who think outside of the box to try and make all of the jigsaw pieces fit together. Technically, we can do anything we set our minds too. All of us have that mindset. Anything is possible.
What does stop us in our tracks? Or at least slow us down to a slow crawl? Politics.
In my first blog post for this site back in January 2010, I wrote that sometimes dreams need course corrections and that was written about NASA changing directions from the Constellation Program to some unknown future. Here we are 21 months later and not a whole lot further down the road. NASA is saying 2017 instead of 2015 for first flight of the Commercial Crew vehicle to the International Space Station (based on funding forecasts), the heavy-life launch vehicle has only recently come to life as a reincarnation of Saturn V (at least in paint colors), and I’m trying my best to stay positive and believe in a future in the Aerospace Industry.
But I keep coming back to my naive dreamer post from October 2010. It’s now 13 months later and I’m still a naive dreamer and keep getting hurt. Why do I keep letting the government and thus NASA dim the lights on my passion? NASA will never get the funding to do what we as children were told was going to happen in our adult lives. At least they won’t in our lifetimes. So why are we still here? Why are we holding on? Is it for the paycheck? Do we think we can really make a difference so our children or grandchildren can experience what we dreamed of?
Why am I here? What good am I providing? How am I making a difference in the world? Do I have too much passion for this field and thus destined to be disappointed? These are questions I’m currently exploring and I simply don’t know how to answer them right now. Another phase of the naive dreamer coming to an end.
I’ve been searching for eloquent words about the end of the Shuttle Program, a program which inspired me to dream of becoming an astronaut, of leading me on the path to study Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering at Purdue, and spending the past 13 years supporting the International Space Station, Constellation, and now Commercial Crew at NASA Johnson Space Center.
I simply don’t have the words. I have tears.
And I technically only worked on the shuttle program for 6 months. My heart goes out to the thousands who dedicated their lives to the program and the vehicle at NASA Johnson, Marshall, and Kennedy Space Centers and to the men and women who built them in California. And of course, to the astronauts who flew them.
Enterprise, Columbia, Discovery, Challenger, Atlantis, and Endeavour will forever be a part of our generation.
A friend of mine, Scott (@poindexterbjj on Twitter ) shared these words with me:
“…While there are new things on the (seemingly distant) horizon, the shuttle remains NASA’s (and McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing’s) greatest achievement. It is the manifestation of genius and greatness. It is an icon of our generation.
We grew up with the shuttle. Perhaps as I did, you watched the launch of STS-1. If you were like me, you wondered why the fuel tank had changed from white to orange (pretty astute for a 5-year-old). We watched two of them leave but never return. And yet, through it all, the shuttle always came back greater than it was before. It was the shuttle that served as one of the first bridges between Russia and the US when Atlantis went to Mir. It was the shuttle that allowed us, along with many others around the world, to establish the greatest technical achievement in human history, the ISS. People would come from all around the world to watch the shuttle fly because it was the physical manifestation of hope for a brighter future for all humanity.
So, yes, a little emotion is understandable.”
Yes. What he said.
I had the great honor of being able to view the last shuttle launch from the KSC Press Site. I purposely stood behind the countdown clock so I could intensify the sound and the feeling of the launch. I felt my organs shake within my body and the sound was amazing. Here is the video I captured and it was edited with the help of my friend, Romeo (@romeoch on Twitter).
There was no “wow, oh wow” from me. I was too busy crying. I couldn’t stop thinking “This is it. This is the last time for perhaps 5-6 years that we launch humans into space from U.S. soil.” I understand why we can’t keep flying the shuttle. I’m okay with saying goodbye. I’m not okay with such a gap in human spaceflight launch capability due to political decisions. We could have avoided this. But, we didn’t. Why? Because no one pays attention until it’s too late.
After the launch I followed some friends to partake in the tradition of beans and corn bread. Along the way, we stopped to visit the Close Out Crew and found out one member’s last day after 33 years was launch day. What a way to go out. If you haven’t seen this video yet from the Close Out Crew, I hope you will take the 90 seconds to watch it. I cried my eyes out.
And I invite you to share your thoughts about the shuttle’s last flight and our future. Please keep in mind the rules of posting on this blog: I request that we keep this civil. We will not attack any individuals, companies, or administrations. We will look at facts, we will question plans, talk about the unknown, offer solutions, and dream about the future.