July’s “last” NASA shuttle launch may have been the end of an era, but it isn’t the end of Florida’s heart for space exploration. Would-be space loving travellers should not fret. I still remember my first trip to Florida in the early ‘90s. A school trip took me and about twenty other students from Canada on an unforgettable holiday to Orlando. Like many kids my age before and since, I was fascinated and thrilled by astronauts and space travel. As part of the trip we visited many of Florida’s major tourist destinations but nothing enraptured me more than our trip to the Kennedy Space Centre. A day spent in the Astronaut Training Experience gave me the opportunity to try out a low gravity machine and learn what it might feel like to walk on the moon.
“I was walking on the moon one day in the merry, merry month of May…”
Witnessing a Shuttle Launch at Cape Canaveral
I had seen the videos of the first moon walk several times over and at 14 I still had the naive and hopeful ambition to fly into space myself and sing that song, just like I’d seen on TV. The astronaut training day was a young teenager’s dream come true. However, the most memorable experience of our trip to Florida was the chance to see a live shuttle launch from the viewpoint at Cape Canaveral.
There are few words to describe the experience. I cannot remember the sound, or the smells (it has been a few decades) but I can remember the feelings it gave me, the sense of power, of grandeur and human accomplishment, and the fear I had should anything have gone wrong. Mostly, I remember the awe and wonder of seeing the shuttle disappear up in a cloud of smoke and fire, heading toward orbit and outer space full of possibility and hope. When I think of Florida, I remember the space program first and foremost.
An Abrupt End?
With the end of the 30 year NASA shuttle program, followed by the final shuttle launch earlier this year, many seem to be wondering what will happen next. Is the American space program really dead and buried? Has Florida lost a part of its soul? Are future Florida holidays doomed now to focus solely on sunshine, beaches, and theme parks? Or worse: are children now doomed to visit the Kennedy Space Centre’s astronaut training day and view it only as science fiction?
Thankfully, no. It seems the privatization of space exploration may be advantageous. Many in recent years have felt that NASA had become too linked to American politics and had lost its pure heart for exploration and discovery. Now, with astronauts and shuttle launches back in the hands of the people, we hope for positive change and greater momentum.
A New Era of Exploration
July’s closing shuttle launch brought tears and sadness to many; however this is not the death of North American space exploration or discovery. Private space flight companies are now being encouraged to develop new ideas, with the hope of kicking off the use of private spacecrafts by 2015. The $500 million spent on the launch platform intended for the now cancelled Constellation program is gaining interest from private companies and from NASA itself which is working to create an improved manned rocket for deep space exploration.
The dreams of children looking to the stars have not been squelched forever by the cancellation of NASA’s 30 year old shuttle or Constellation programme. In fact the shift may push us into an exciting new era of space travel and developments. Florida’s Cape Canaveral remains centre stage for space-themed dreams and innovations. So the next time you visit Florida, don’t sadly reminisce about the space program of days gone by, instead dream hopefully for the future and new discoveries to come. Let us continue to journey forth from Florida, reaching out to explore where no human being has gone before…
This is a guest post by K Newey. She is a copywriter and script writer of sci-fi stories and was once a hardcore Trekkie. She would love to take many more Florida Holidays in the future, and looks forward to the opportunity to witness one of the new rocket launches.