I can remember watching the coverage of the NASA Mission programs in the 1960s on our black and white television; watching the rockets blast off in spectacular pomp and circumstance, and days later watching the tiny capsule bobbing in the ocean and waiting patiently to see the door open the astronauts crawl out onto a waiting boat to take to land.
In 1961 when President Kennedy set a goal to put a man on the moon, it seemed like a sci-fi movie coming to life. On July 21, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The Apollo program lasted until December 1972 due to budget cuts.
In 1973, Skylab space station was launched on the unmanned Saturn V rocket, followed by a manned crew for Skylab on Saturn IB. Skylab is the US space station that lasted from May 1973 to February 1974. In 1979, it fell back to earth with a fanfare of parties in the United States as other countries feared for their safety.
In the 1980sm the Space Shuttle program begins. And in 1986, the Challenger accident happened. Its mission was to carry large payloads to various orbits, as well as later provide crew rotation to the International Space Station (ISS), which was launched in 1998. The first inhabitants arrived in November of 2000, and as they develop and assemble new portions of the station, it is forecasted to operate to 2030. It devastated the country as well as the future of NASA. Three years later, I moved to Orlando and had my first view of a shuttle blast off from the rooftop of the office building I worked. Like most people in Hawaii that stop to watch the sunset nightly, everyone in Central Florida did the same for the launch of a shuttle - holding their breath and silently saying prayers for their success. Then in 2003 during reentry, Columbia broke up and killed all seven crew members. The final launch was in July 2011 and the space program was canceled.
I have seen early-morning, late-night, and middle-of-the-day launches. Each one is more spectacular than the last. I can honestly say I have never traveled to the coast and watched one up close and personal, because being a northern implant, I have anxiety about traffic, and the road into Cape Canaveral is always backed up for hours before and after launch. I also have a hard time sitting on I-4 most days.
Orlando is less than 40 miles from Cape Canaveral and since shuttles are always done on clear days or nights, the brilliance from the rocket was easily seen from my back yard. A daytime launch is most common and the deep blue Florida sky and the billowy white clouds that bring the blue to a majestic tone can make for an awesome backdrop to the rocket's red glimmer. Many viewings started in my living room, watching the countdown on my television and reminiscing of the countdowns of the space missions in the 1960s.
Once liftoff was established out the door, we went to look east into the sky and wait for the rocket to clear the horizon of homes and trees. The rocket appeared like a sword cutting across the sky with a blaze of fire and smoke on its tail. It slowly moved across the sky arching into the horizon and we continued to watch until the flame magically disappeared like someone blew out a candle. Poof, it's on its way to outer space and will return with a sonic boom in a few weeks.
As government spending dwindled away, private industry was NASA's hope to continue space exploration. Enter Elon Musk and Space X. Not only did Space X rockets reach orbit, they successfully recover their spacecraft. They are also the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). In 2017, Space X was the first to reuse an orbital rocket, and the coolest thus far was the launch of the Falcon Heavy's payload of a Tesla Roadster in 2018. "Starman," a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit, occupies the driver's seat, and the car's sound system was set before launch to continuously loop the Bowie song "Space Oddity."
This year, Space X is set to launch a full crew to the ISS. His test rocket left earth on March 2, 2019, and upon its successful return will work with NASA for the next step in space exploration. I look forward to many more launches and witnessing the landings as well. It is uncertain where these adventures lead us, but unlike the president that hopes to build an army in space, I would hope we would use the information in space to understand issues like global warming and sustainable energy.