As a father, I have heard the saying, and whole-heartedly embrace it, that a parent should never outlive their children.
As a corollary, I would posit that a person should never outlive a dream.
In April of 1981, almost thirty-one years ago to this date, I am sitting in a hotel in Palm Springs, California. My family has decided to take us to a desert hotel for the Spring Break holiday so we can enjoy the high and dry heat with some friends. My siblings and their friends are enjoying the pool, but I have decided to stay inside. My father and I are stuck in front of the television because I demanded that I be able to watch the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
I was too young to remember Apollo 11, the mission that took the first men to the Moon, but this would a moment to remember forever. This would be the day the United States began its first real steps towards space travel that would lead to a space station, then to a lunar base, then to Mars, then to the stars. This was the moment my science-fiction-fueled pre-teen brain was waiting for. Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, and others had all created beautiful works about this moment when the dream of moving humanity out of its crib would begin.
Fire roared from the rocket engines and the white craft sailed skyward like summer fantasies.
Despite the deaths and the accidents of Challenger and Columbia, I believed in the dream of interplanetary living. It may not happen while I was alive, but the dream would be alive for my children and my grandchildren to see the Sun rise over a world other than Earth.
Three decades plus a year later, I am watching the dream slowly fall to Earth never to rise again. I am again stuck in front of the television, but I am alone this time. I watch CNN International as they show me the images of a 747 float effortlessly over Washington, D.C. and Dulles, Virgina. Atop the large plane, piggyback, sits Space Shuttle Discovery. She is on her last flight coming to Virginia to be housed in the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
There she, along with her sisters Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and Endeavour at the California Science Center, will sit gathering dust reminding generation after generation of what could have been.
This quartet of silent sentinels are the tombstones of the dream to move beyond this planet. I cannot fathom, in today’s political atmosphere of partisan sniping and budget restraint, that I (or my kids or grandkids) will ever see such a massive combined effort to propel humans off Earth and to move outward and onward.
Rest well, Atlantis, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour, and Enterprise.
You served admirably.
You lived up to your end of the dream.
I only wish we could have.