“Space, the Final Frontier” was the opening line from the original Star Trek series that inspired a generation of nerds like me to dream about space exploration.
I was one of many boomers who wanted to be an astronaut, even more so after the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. My dreams were dashed by bad eyesight and motion sickness, not the best combo for conquering space. Nevertheless, my fascination for everything space and science fiction-related never waned. Now, I know that many people think space exploration is a waste of money that would be better spent here on earth, but the economic boom, the job creation, and the improvements in our quality of life justify the expenditures.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, here are some of the amazing byproducts of the research done during the height of the space program:
- Camera Phone
- Scratch resistant lenses
- CAT scanners
- LED lights
- Land mine removal technology
- Running shoes (e.g. Nike Air Trainer)
- Foil blankets
- Water purification systems
- Dust Busters
- Home insulation
- Wireless Headsets
- Memory foam
- Artificial limb technology
- Computer mouse
- Portable computer
And that’s a short list! So I was disappointed when our Space Shuttle Program went out with a whimper.
And I was even more frustrated when American astronauts had to be carried to the International Space Station by Russian rockets!
We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962
Space exploration is about dreaming big. SpaceX and Nasa are all about imagination, innovation, and inspiration, but, on the other hand, there is no question that space travel involves risk. We all remember the Apollo 1 fire, the Columbia crash, and the Challenger explosion, along with the near disaster with Apollo 13. There is risk in all great endeavors.
So I am thrilled that the likes of Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos have hearkened to the words of President Kennedy and restarted our quest for space exploration. The recent SpaceX launch has left me and many of my space-nerd friends giddy and excited.
The idea that NASA, the revered leader in space launches, innovation, and missions, and SpaceX, the young upstart company that has accomplished what we thought was only science fiction, are working together can mean only one thing: We’re going back into Space!
I had the opportunity to interview my friend Marc Serota, an Award-Winning photographer and fellow space nerd. He’s been capturing great photos of launches for years!
LP: Okay Space Nerd, I’m jealous because I’ve never been to a launch at the Cape.
MS: Sucks for you. I’ve had the incredible honor of covering close to 100 Space Shuttle launches in my career as a photo journalist.
LP: I hate you.
MS: No you don’t.
LP: No, I don’t. What were a couple of the most memorable launches for you?
MS: Well, I was with my late dad and father-in-law, flying at 2500 feet in a Cessna for one of the launches. What an amazing view that was.
MS: I also remember going to one of the launches with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and because of my pass, we were allowed to stand next to the Countdown Clock.
LP: How far from the launchpad is that?
MS: About 3 miles. One of the NASA guys told us to dive into the water if there was an explosion so we wouldn’t get hit by the debris.
LP: So you’ve had a chance to get some great pics.
MS: Yeah. One of my favorites is of a grandfather, father, and son out in the water looking up at the shuttle after blastoff. 3 generations sharing that experience. That photo was used in Life magazine!
LP: I remember Life magazine! That is an amazing photo. Now, you told me a while ago about a time that you were the pool photographer for an upcoming launch.
MS: Yes, and for those who don’t know, a pool photographer is used in special situations when the number of people has to be limited, so all the photos I took were shared with all the news agencies. Anyway, my editor-in-chief asked if I wanted the assignment. I said yes. I was like a big shot. They drove me to the Vehicle Assembly Building and I went through all the security, and when I walked into the shuttle bay, there was Vice-President Cheney and his family getting a private tour. I took a ton of photos. And then you know what? I touched it.
MS: I touched the Shuttle. It was going into space, and I touched it. By the way, those tiles are really smooth.
LP: Damn it! Now you were also there for the final shuttle launch and it was a bittersweet thing for everybody involved with the shuttle program.
MS: Yeah. It was cool though because they let a lot of the team drive their cars out to the pad before the launch. One guy had this awesome Chevy Chevelle SS, and I got a couple of great shots of the car and the shuttle!
Photo by Marc Serota Photo by Marc Serota
LP: That is so cool! So, now SpaceX and NASA are working together. We just had the launch of the Dragon capsule into space. It’s weird to think that the moonshot was done with less computer power than an old iPhone!
MS: It really is. It’s exciting to see us back in the game!
LP: Were you there?
MS: Oh yeah. My friend flew me up there so I could watch it. It’s a smaller rocket, so it was a little harder to get good shots from our vantage point. Still, it was amazing. Were you there?
MS: Kidding. I’ll send you those pics later.
LP: I appreciate it, Marc! Your photos are awesome!
MS: You bet, Larry. More to come.
So as I left my friend, still harboring jealous thoughts, I was and am thankful that he has so beautifully and carefully captured those amazing moments. Ad Astra! To the Stars!