A lot of you know that I’ve been struggling with the end of the space shuttle era. It’s hard to fathom that the US has nothing in place to take us on that next giant leap in a timely fashion before this program ends. Most of all, this week has especially been hard.
Today, I spent half the day at an awards ceremony for people who have contributed to the space program in significant ways throughout their careers. While the speeches from management were moving (one stoic ex-astronaut even cried) it was one of the employees that I interviewed that moved me the most.
She was being recognized for her 20-plus year contribution to the human space program. The interview seem normal enough: state your name, spell it, tell me your job title, why did you get your award to day? And that is where she lost it. I couldn’t tell what was wrong at first so I stopped the camera, grabbed some tissues and asked her if she was ok.
“I got my award today for my family’s contribution to the program,” she said through bleary eyes. “You see, my husband worked on the program for 30 years, me for 20 years and we met working to put the shuttle in space. About 18 months ago, he passed away.”
That is where I teared up. She was so heartbroken. I couldn’t take it anymore. All of my pent up emotions from the past couple of years working on the close out of this amazing vehicle came out all at once. Since I’ve been working on the public relations side of the house, I’ve interviewed about 30 people, ex astronauts, 65 year old men who cried, lovely women engineers, and none of them brought me to my knees like she did today. And what was most incredible about this is that the shuttle program and its mission is what kept her going the past year and a half.
You see, the shuttle program is more than a vehicle that makes routine trips to space that the general public doesn’t give two shits about. It is the livelihood of thousands who have committed their careers to this endeavour. Aside from that, it is a step in the process for ensuring the future of the human species.
If you are having a hard time with this concept, that’s ok. It’s not easy for everyone to realize that there is more to life than your existence. There is a world beyond your backyard. While you may be concerned about war, terrorism, or your kids not getting straight A’s, do you ever think about what happens next? When we destroy this world with those wars, where will your children’s grandchildren exist? I know we all get caught up in the day to day lives we live, but all you have to do is walk outside at night, look up in the sky and see how insignificant you are in the grand scheme.
And yes, my rant extends beyond this final shuttle launch. There really is life after shuttle and it is in existence now. There’s an International Space Station orbiting our earth that has had permanent residents for 10+ years. You can look up in the sky and see it fly over your house. The astronauts on board and scientists on the ground are conducting ground-breaking research in so many disciplines. Did you know they are doing cancer research and working to find new vaccines? Yes, tumors and other organisms grow in three dimensions in zero gravity much like they do in the human body. Nowhere else can we mimic these conditions other than using a living, breathing organism. Several drugs are going through FDA trials based on research from space. Research that could never happen on earth without hurting a person or animal in the process. There’s so much more going on up there that I don’t even have the space to convey it to you. I encourage you to visit NASA’s website (www.nasa.gov) to find out more.
Another thing is that someone recently reduced my 17 year space career to doing a “good job” on a piece of print collateral. Really? I’m not a horn-tooter, but I feel the need to publicize the fact that I’ve worked my ass of for 17 years to help get us off this planet before we have no other choice. As an enlisted member of the US Air Force Space Command, I operated GPS satellites that make your bombs more accurate and also help guide aircraft safely through the skies. I worked to get robotics hardware on the International Space Station that played an integral part in building this amazing orbiting outpost. I taught kids the importance of biological research conducted in space and how they could also go to school to learn scientific disciplines and contribute to the future. I communicated to the medical community about the amazing research on prostate cancer tumors conducted on the station, too. I also helped scientists get their experiments on the station. I worked my ass off in public affairs for NASA trying to communicate to an apathetic public about the importance of slipping the surly bonds of earth. And now, I’m working with a major commercial aerospace company to take that next giant leap to get us out of low earth orbit and out into deep space where we can find similar worlds and answers to why we are here, how we got here and what our future may hold.
So if you think all I’ve done is write a few good stories or make some pretty brochures, then all I have to say is what the hell have you done?