So, whilst you were sleeping in the wee hours of this morning, this happened at Cape Canaveral, Florida:
No astronauts were aboard, aside from a mannequin named, Ripley, and a plush toy shaped like Planet Earth. But still, it was a pretty important launch. It was the last step before American astronauts board an American rocket on American soil and launch themselves into space.
That hasn’t happened in almost eight years. Think about that one for a minute. The country that won the Space Race in the 1960s by being the first to put a man on the Moon, has spent the last 96 months hitchhiking its way up to the International Space Station. A station that was built thanks mostly to the United States’ space shuttle program – the only nation to successfully build one of those too.
Back in 2011, I was putting together a special section for the AV News in the Antelope Valley that paid tribute to the 30-year-old shuttle program. I got to interview John Glenn, yeah THE John Glenn, for a story that ran in the section.
He was very angry about the decision to rely on Russia to ferry our astronauts up to space because we hadn’t bothered to have a replacement ready to go when the shuttles were grounded. Orion was supposed to eventually take the place of the shuttles, but last I heard Orion is nowhere in sight.
Fortunately, the private sector has stepped into the void. Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing have both constructed capsules that can carry astronauts as well as cargo into space. Eventually, they’ll construct spacecraft that will carry travelers to Mars and hopefully beyond.
I stayed up into the wee hours this morning to watch Crew Dragon – or Demo-1 as it was called – and was reminded of a morning some 50 years ago. I’d stayed up all night so I wouldn’t miss the launch of Apollo 11.
We were going to land humans on the Moon for the very first time. Soon after, we would have a permanent base up there where people would live. Then we’d go to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and onward out to the outer worlds. We’d finally see what they looked like. Then Alpha Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor. These were the accomplishments we knew awaited us on that morning.
Many of them we expected to have ticked off the list by now. Yet, we really haven’t. After six visits we stopped going to the Moon. And we have yet to send a single human being beyond our Moon. We’ve sent probes, of course, and we have some great pictures of all nine planets (yes, Pluto is still a planet. Fight me.) and a few samples from Mars.
But all of those accomplishments pale in comparison of what we were expecting back in 1969. Growing up, I was hoping to travel to the Moon and Mars as easily as we travel from Los Angeles to New York today. That isn’t going to happen.
But maybe, with efforts like this morning’s, we’re back on the path that will allow my two grandsons to one day walk the surface of the Red Planet. That was the most important cargo Demo-1 carried aloft last night: Our hopes and dreams for a brighter future.