In 10 days time, on Feb 7th at 4:39am EST, space shuttle Endeavour (STS-130) is due to blast off once again to supply parts to the International Space Station. There are 4 more launches due this year and when Discovery lifts of in mid September, it will be the end of an era as she will be part of the last planned shuttle mission.
As reusable workhorses, and despite 2 tragic accidents, the space shuttles have been a fantastic success story. If all the miles they have covered were laid end to end, they'd stretch all the way to the end and back !
Well, as you know, I hate those stupid comparisons. Stretch to the moon and back. Stretch 3 times around the world. I mean if you can't accept that 460,000 miles is quite a long way, I don't see how knowing that it's the distance of a return trip to the moon is going to suddenly make you realise that. I look up at the moon at night and it doesn't seem THAT far away so if anything, using that as an example of something 230,000 miles away is pretty crap.
And another thing, the distance to the moon varies from 225,622 miles to 252,088 miles thanks to its elliptical orbit around the Earth and also, no flight from terra firma to the lunar surface ever goes in a straight line as both are moving objects.
Jeez I thought yesterdays digression was bad but I'm at it again today ! Sorry.
So there are 2 shuttle launches due before I go back to England and although I'll be in bed when Endeavour takes off on Feb 7th, hopefully I'll get to see Discovery take off at a much more sensible time of 1:34pm EST on March 18th. It's such a luxury to be able to see it from the park here and even though this means getting in the golf cart and going to the park entrance to see it best, under ideal conditions, I COULD actually see it from my chair here in the house. Cool as that would be, I'll not be taking the chance of missing MY last launch and so I'll be out by the park entrance as usual.
The shuttle program, as with all space related programs, has had its fair share of critics over the years but no one can deny the guts needed to sit atop a potential bomb as the countdown approaches the 8 second mark and those main engines fire up. I still get nervous as my plane takes off so I just can't imagine how I'd feel strapped into my seat only a few inches from a massive tank of highly inflammable fuel that is about to be set on fire. A controlled fire of course but nevertheless, once that fuel is lit up, there is NO turning back.
So right now as I think about the 7 who died EXACTLY 24 years ago, I'm sure the crew of Endeavour are doing the same as they prepare for their launch.
And praying that in a few days time, they'll not go down in history for similar reasons.
Challenger Crew : RIP