On Thursday, 12 May 2005, Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center is scheduled to make history as the Space Shuttle Discovery blasts off on mission STS-114, the first such launch and flight since the Columbia was destroyed during re-entry.
After the Columbia Accident Investigation Board announced their findings in August 2003 regarding the cause of the accident, NASA was charged with making many modifications, not only to its Shuttle Fleet hardware, but to procedures and personnel. A structural redevelopment of the large external fuel tank was completed in order to prevent the casting off of insulating foam, the object that punctured the fatal hole in wing of Columbia.
Two years later, hopefully having learned from the mistakes of the past, NASA feels confident to return to flight and I for one and very excited. While it may be too idealistic to think that human space travel holds the key to peace on Earth, it is certainly one of the most important aspects of current evolution. In addition to the scientific gains we make in the fields of spaceflight, astronomy and astrophysics, countless new technologies and medicines have either been developed in or designed for space. On Earth, those same "futuristic" explorations have proven essential.
Living in Orlando, the backyard of human spaceflight, is a special opportunity. Since moving to the area in September 1989, there have been eighty-five launches and I have tried to watch each and every one. If you stand in my front yard and look up, both the flights of shuttles departing Launch Complex 39A and 39B are clearly visible. You can watch the sun shimmering off the surface of the ship as it breaks away from the confines of Earth. I have also gone out to the Kennedy Space Center for launches, both watching them from across the Banana River and on occasion on NASA property via drive-on permit.
I have some great stories about being on property for launches and the granddaddy of them all: the tour I took of the complete facility. I will be sure to write about those experiences soon.
In the meantime, I anxiously await that day in May when I can again look at the sky and see our future taking flight.
Original Photographs © National Aeronautics and Space Administration
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