We met today’s guest blogger, Omar Izquierdo, only recently. A while back, he had contacted our most recent guest blogger, Margaret Lazarus Dean, because he’d read her (space shuttle) novel. Over time and a few launches, they’ve become friends. We met up with Margaret at the KSC News Center to witness the last shuttle launch. The next evening, the three of us met Omar at Roberto’s Little Havana, an amazing Cuban restaurant in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He was working on his guest post, grappling with how to capture the historical and personal moment in a few hundred words.
These July guest posts, then, are a part of our “Last Chance to See” series. Omar’s post captures particularly well the mixture of pride and frustration that those intimately connected with the space shuttle program feel now, as Atlantis, the last functioning orbiter, circles the earth for a few more days.
END OF SHUTTLE
I freely admit. After six years working at Kennedy Space Center, there have been many times when I forgot I was coming to work at a spaceport and simply thought of it as coming to work. I’ve walked out to my car in the VAB (that’s the Vehicle Assembly Building) parking lot and looked nonchalantly at a space shuttle sitting on the launch pad barely three miles away, as if it were a normal occurrence. Having a mosaic of black tiles above my head as I walked underneath a spaceplane to get to the copy machine didn’t even raise my pulse. I used to be afraid that if this sort of complacency ever happened, it would mean that I was dead inside.
But I now believe that adopting this casual attitude was the only way my mind could ever protect me from the complete physical exhaustion that would result from geeking out every single day I came to do my job. You see, if you talked to most people who knew me growing up, they would probably tell you that I’m taking the idea of a last space shuttle launch pretty rough. They would be justified in believing that, judging by what they saw and heard of me as a youngster. I was known as the shuttle geek, or whatever word you choose for describing a ridiculously entrenched fixation with something.
So yeah, I’ll admit. There’s a little kid inside of me throwing a temper tantrum about this. And why shouldn’t there be? It’ll be quite an adjustment for people in my generation who have never known the idea of no future shuttle launches, and idea that became a reality ten days ago. For me, there’s always been a sense that the definition of life in this community is simply prep time between shuttle launches. Now that there’s no more launches. Umm. What do we do now? I’m not much of a beach person, and I’ve been to Disney so many times I could throw up thinking about that.
I think this is why our perspective as Space Coast residents is different than any other industry-centered area in the world. I’ll try to put it into words. Our area code is 3-2-1. When you hear the words scrub, tile, and pad, you naturally think of different things than I do. I have at least one elementary school in my area named for every space shuttle orbiter. I hear certain unfamiliar acronyms and immediately wonder if that’s also a part of the shuttle program. The McDonalds in my town has a giant shuttle on top of its playground. No joke, come visit.
No matter whom you meet in town, there’s never more than three degrees of separation in terms of their association with NASA. And it’s an unspoken law that your entire town simply comes to a stop to when the clock winds down to T-minus-9-minutes and counting.
So it’s pretty frustrating how senselessly the end of shuttle has turned out. Jokes about lack of federal sense-making aside (I really want to tell one now), the idea of retiring one spacecraft without having another to replace it is pretty infuriating. On the Space Coast, the idea of relying on Russia to haul our astronauts into space is the centrally aggravating issue. When you combine that with our idea of community identity here locally, then the concept of a manned-spaceflight gap takes on a whole new dimension. It hits home. With the exception of the recent launches from China, our Florida Space Coast has been one of only two places on the whole planet from which men and women have been launched from this Earth. So when the prospect of the end of the shuttle, and of the end of manned spaceflight, even temporarily, are tossed around, these frustrations are not the things that commonly pop into mind outside of my geographic area.
I’ll never complain for myself about the end of the program, minor internal temper tantrum notwithstanding. The number of good times I’ve had working closely around the shuttles is simply ridiculous. I mean, I’ve sat in the commander’s seat of Discovery, on the launch pad, lying on my back pointing up! It’d be criminal for me to complain. Good things start and good things end, and the shuttle isn’t an exception.
I admit, though, I wasn’t capable of completely processing that thought the very last time I walked down the launch pad slope, away from Atlantis last a few days ago.
Alright…so when’s the next shuttle? Oops.
Damn these old habits.
Maybe a few more little tantrums before I adjust.