Wednesday, April 12, 2006

25 Years of Exploration

Today marks the 25th Anniversary of the first space shuttle launch.

Just after 7am on April 12, 1981, the space shuttle Columbia rose off the pad at Cape Canaveral with astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen in the first operational test of the new shuttle system.

I remember sitting watching in awe and fascination as that beautiful ship rose up from the clouds of smoke and ascended to its rightful place in the sky.

The first mission didn't last long - just 36 orbits and 2+ days - but it proved that the system worked (despite some flaws). Watching her land on the dry lake beds of Edwards was a sight to behold.

The musical group Rush even had a song about Columbia....

"Countdown"
Lyrics by Neil Peart

Dedicated with thanks to astronauts Young & Crippen and all the people of NASA for their inspiration and cooperation

[Coming up on 45 minute point in out countdown. Everything going smoothly... T minus 45 minutes and counting…]
[Coming up on T minus 40 minutes. T Minus 40 minutes and counting… This is shuttle launch control.]

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 are go for launch. At the present time, we know of no major problems, as we enter the final hold.]

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 minutes 27 seconds… sequencers start, T minus 20 seconds and counting…. T minus 15, 14, 13…
T minus 10, 9, 8 7 6 5 4... Main engines start, we have liftoff.]

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
It tears away with a mighty force
The air is shattered by the awesome sound

[T plus 30 seconds... 35... Columbia, Houston. 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...

[Columbia is now turning for it’s precise window in space for main engine cutoff…]
[Plus 2 minutes 40 seconds, Columbia now 39 nautical miles in altitude, 42 nautical miles downrange…]
[Columbia you’re looking a little hot and all your calls will be a little early...]
[Young and Crippin really moving out now – velocity now reading 6200 feet per second…]
[“What a view! What a view” “Glad you enjoyed it”…]
[Columbia Houston, we have 40 seconds to LOS, after LOS you’re looking good
for an over-the-hill and we’ll see you in Madrid…]
[“And we enjoyed the music Bob, thank ya.”…]
[“We enjoyed it. We just wanted to share some with ya.”…]

And sadly, nearly 22 years later, we would lose Columbia - and its seven astronauts - as it broke up over the skies of the United States that cold day in February 2003.

1 comment:

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