I was reading through the Radio Times to see if there was anything cool on the telly soon. It was a warm, sunny day in July 2002 and I found a programme that had caught my eye. I highlighted it and said to my dad “can we record this please?” I was 11 and cable had yet to be introduced to our lonely corner of the village. A good friend and neighbor however had more money than the rest of us in the cul-de-sac and had this thing called Sky along with a funny dish stuck to his house. He could record it for me, and he did!
The programme was called ‘Rocket Men of Mission 105’ and the description in the Radio Times had read something like ‘the story of a mission to space’. The next day the neighbor bought up the programme recorded onto VHS for me (Yes VHS) and I sat down to watch it with an un-blinked glaze in my eyes for just under and hour. Here, I think, my obsession with space began.
Since then I’ve missed maybe only two or three launches. I managed to persuade my parents to let me wake up in the early hours to see some night launches. I recall one time getting up at something like 3am to see the launch of Endeavour. In the time before YouTube existed I recorded the launches onto VHS so I could watch them again and again.
The Space Shuttle Program came to close on the 21st July and it was sad sight for me. People have been highly critical of the shuttle, and rightly so. They’ve been a waste of money, doing jobs unmanned rockets could have done, conducted research that’d be put to better use being done on the Earth, they’ve killed 14 people. What we don’t seem to appreciate is what the shuttle has meant to people across the planet. Nearly 1 million attended the last launch of Atlantis earlier in the month, a million. On top of that number are the millions across the globe who watched in awe. The shuttle has touched millions and millions of individuals.
The shuttle sparked my interest in rocket flight, that developed into an interest in astronautics, which itself developed into an interest in astronomy, physics, geology, meteorology, planetary science, chemistry, biology, ethics, mathematics. If it wasn’t for the shuttle I doubt my enthusiastic obsession would have developed. From that one launch I saw, my interests began. It’s changed my view of the world we live on, made me realise the value of science and led to my becoming an atheist.
I doubt I’m the only one this has happened to, and that’s fantastic. I now worry though that there’s nothing to excite young kids, a young me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s exciting stuff going on – Dawn’s in orbit about Vesta, Juno’s about to be launched and we’re sending a rover, the size of a mini, to the Red planet. There’s no people though, we’re not strapping people atop a massive rocket and launching them to the stars, and we won’t for a few years yet (I know there’s Soyuz, but that doesn’t get the coverage it deserves). So I’m concerned about inspiring the next generation of explorers, what’s going to spark their interest?
I’ve never been able to find the VHS of ‘The Rocket Men of Mission 105’, it’s not on DVD, not on YouTube, not even the people who showed it, National Geographic, have much information on it anymore. I’d dearly love to watch it again.
Meanwhile it seemed appropriate to read a book about the shuttle, and so I’ve started reading this book ‘Riding Rockets‘ by Mike Mullane. It’s proving to be a cracking read.
- Space shuttle Atlantis through the years (photos) (news.cnet.com)
- Alongside space shuttle Atlantis’ final mission (photos) (news.cnet.com)
- With Atlantis launch, shuttle program is history (roundup) (news.cnet.com)
- Shutting down: Space shuttle Discovery says farewell (thesun.co.uk)
- Space shuttle Discovery comes to rest at the Smithsonian (slashgear.com)