My family always ate dinner together when I was growing up. We’d catch up with each other’s day and, if we could unleash my Dad’s dry wit, laugh so hard someone was bound to be sprayed with milk across the table!
Inevitably one of us kids would ask my Dad, “So what did you do at work today?” His stock reply always was, “Filled with the events that make history.” Of course, we’d always try to get something more out of him, but that never happened. Even after we were all out of the house and home for the holidays, someone would always ask. We’d all join in with, “Filled with the events that make history.”
My Dad really was a rocket scientist, aeronautical engineer, to be exact. His dream was to work in the space program and he did. Recruited right out of college, he worked his entire career at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. We grew up getting up before dawn to watch all of the space launches on our black and white TV. I still have the pictures I took off the TV of the first moon landing and walk. The contributions of the space program fueled all of my science fair projects and some of my sons’ science fairs projects.
But we still didn’t really know what Dad did at NASA. We knew he testified before Congress, had been to the White House, escorted George H.W. Bush around NASA, and went to Washington D.C. just about every week, but we didn’t really know what he did. Until he retired.
His retirement was a big deal event held at the Stanford University Faculty Club with a lot of really important people in attendance. Really important people who weren’t able to make it, sent official letters of commendation and appreciation. There were several very cool gifts. And a multimedia presentation of Dad’s career.
My brother, sister, and I just about fell out of our chairs! At one point we looked at each other and said (minus the colorful words), “He wasn’t kidding! He really was involved in the events that made history!” We were stunned and in absolute awe!
A scientific era that impacted an entire generation is drawing to a close. The space shuttle Discovery has just completed its final mission. Endeavour will complete her final mission in April and Atlantis in June.
For over 30 years, the space shuttle has provided an immeasurable supply of scientific research, discoveries, advances, not to mention, practical applications for our daily lives. Without NASA’s understanding of the physical and psychological challenges confronting astronauts in space, the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped 2,300 feet below ground for 69 days would have had a very different outcome. We will continue to benefit from artificial intelligence, humanoid robots (Discovery left Robonaut2, or R2, on board the Space Station to help with odd jobs), and a whole host of other wondrous achievements that inform our knowledge and understanding of the world, cosmos, and ultimately ourselves.
But it won’t be the same without a space program. We can only hope that we as a nation will continue to support the quest for exploration and the challenge of making it happen.
Bonus Tip: If you have an iPhone or an iPad, get NASA’s free app. It’s a robust selection of dynamically updated information, images and videos from various online NASA resources.