Death Sheep from Hell (fenton) wrote,
Death Sheep from Hell
fenton

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When dreams die...

I know that everyone is going to be writing about this; it's the big media event, after all. Everyone is in grief, expressing their condolences to the families, and... well, hell, I don't know.

I do feel sorry for the families, I guess. The same way that I feel sorry for anyone who has to go through the pain of losing someone close. But more, I think, I feel angry - perhaps irrationally so - at the people who will inevitably take this as a reason to stop such programs. Everyone on the shuttle knew that there was always a chance of failure - and that few failures in such a situation are surviveable ones. They had the bravery to do it, anyway. Because they felt that it was worth it.

Dammit... I believe in being careful stewards of the planet we live on. I believe in trying not to fuck it up, and in trying to fix what we already have fucked up. But no matter how well we accomplish that, no matter how little impact we make on the planet, eventually it is going to become uninhabitable - most likely by the star we orbit going through the expected phases of its life. If we're still stuck on this one planet when that happens - or even this one solar system - everything anyone ever strived to achieve, to remember, everything we ever created, will be lost with it.

Granted - that time is, most likely, billions of years from now. Of course, there's a reasonably decent chance that we'll end up blindsided by an asteroid in the much more immediate future, which may only wipe out all higher life as we know it.

Like a lot of kids, I had dreams of being an astronaut. For many years, my room was postered in shots of Halley's Comet in the infrared spectrum, and photographs of the earth as seen from the Shuttle bay. One of the first moments of reality I truly had was realizing, in second grade, that my vision would almost certainly prevent me from ever becoming an astronaut, due to the physical requirements. A year later, I watched the Challenger blow up on a live TV feed while eating birthday cake for a boy in my class; much of what I remember about it wasn't how I felt that day, but the fact that I heard nothing about space for years after that. Schools were afraid to show launches, even when they began again, and it never was popular.

I remember, a few years ago, watching the first rocket carrying part of the International Space Station lifting off - and I remember the surge of hope that I felt, in watching it. We were going back. Not just marking time putting up military satellites and doing short-term experiments, but going back. To stay. To damn well not give up, not go home, not stop trying.

That's what I'm afraid of, right now. I'm afraid that I will die, and we will still be stuck on this planet, with no dreams of ever going past it. That people will forget what the men and women of the shuttle missions have worked for, and died for, as they already seem to forget the dreams that were inspired by the Gemini and Apollo missions. The final Apollo missions were so ignored by most people that many don't even know they happened; we reached the moon, the directive given in the name of competition with the USSR... and then we stopped. The shuttle was about a sustainable, enduring presence in space, but we no longer seem to care about going there.

I have to play the song; I need to write down the lyrics. Every time I heard it, until now, it made my hair stand on end - the simple promise of what it was about, what it mean, why they needed to write it. But I don't think I will ever be able to hear that in it again. (The song is "Countdown", by Rush, on their Signals album - and was written about the first Shuttle launch ever, of the shuttle Columbia, in 1981.)


(... coming up on 45 minute point in our countdown, everything going smoothly... T-minus 45 minutes and counting...)
(... T-minus 40 minutes.. <???>...)

Lit up with anticipation
We arrive at the launching site
The sky is still dark, nearing dawn
On the Florida coastline

Circling choppers slash the night
With roving searchlight beams
This magic day when super-science
Mingles with the bright stuff of dreams

(... We have a report from the test center that we are go for launch... at the present time, there are no major problems...)

Floodlit in the hazy distance
The star of this unearthly show
Venting vapours, like the breath
Of a sleeping white dragon

Crackling speakers, voices tense
Resume the final count
All systems check, T minus nine
As the sun and the drama start to mount

The air is charged --- a humid, motionless mass
The crowds and the cameras,
The cars full of spectators pass
Excitement so thick --- you could cut it with a knife
Technology --- high, on the leading edge of life

(... T-minus 27 seconds... <???> redundant engine start...)
(... T-minus 20 seconds and counting...)
(... T-minus 15... 14... 13... T-minus 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4...)
(We've gone for main engine start... we have it...)
(<audio over the next 2 verses is oversung and indistinguishable>)

The earth beneath us starts to tremble
With the spreading of a low black cloud
A thunderous roar shakes the air
Like the whole world exploding

Scorching blast of golden fire
As it slowly leaves the ground
Tears away with a mighty force
The air is shattered by the awesome sound

(... Columbia get set, you're go at 40...)

Excitement so thick --- you could cut it with a knife
Technology --- high, on the leading edge of life
Like a pillar of cloud, the smoke lingers
High in the air
In fascination --- with the eyes of the world
We stare...
(<further radio communications>)
(... you're looking a little hot, and all your calls will be a little early...)
(<???>... what a view, what a view... <radio continues>)


In memory of Shuttle Missions 51-L (Challenger) and STS-107 (Columbia).
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