Friday, April 29, 2005

A "junior astronaut" all grown up

Reading this story about the last Titan rocket to blast off from Cape Canaveral made me a little wistful this evening, as I remembered a one-in-a-lifetime chance I got one summer back in college to visit the cape. While the Space Shuttle usually gets most of the attention, these powerful unmanned workhorses of the space industry delivered payload after payload into orbit during their five decades in service.

I'll probably always remember that hot day at the Air Force station when I got to drive out to the launch pad where one of these "vehicles" was standing in place like a quiet sentry, braced against the tower, ready to go when its final countdown was up. I rode the elevator to the upper stages and came within inches of a Titan that eventually went farther above the earth than I probably ever will.

Like many little boys and girls, I had a phase (albiet brief) when I wanted to be an astronaut. And that one blindingly bright Floridian day, I had a serendipitous chance of seeing the place where so much of it happened. The future of the American space program seems at times to be in jeopardy, blown by the winds of geopolitical interests and domestic budgeting, but there's something about it that has always felt to me as though it were all above politics, above partisanship. I know it's not, but some things I like to be willfully ignorant of, for sanity's sake.

So goodbye, Titan, and thanks to all who worked on her. Your efforts crafted for me a great childhood memory.

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