Chair Force Engineer

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

An Era Begins

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin made mankind's first manned spaceflight. He circled the earth for just shy of one orbit in his Vostok capsule, returned to earth, then escaped his capsule in an ejection seat because the Vostok lacked any landing rockets or airbags. Still, Yuri showed the world that mankind's place was the cosmos. And he forced the American space program, still trying to catch up to the superior Soviet rockets, to ask, "A Godless communist just went into space. Why can't we?"

Since Yuri's flight, more have followed in his footsteps. In spite of the difficulties, it would seem that mankind will not stop its travels into the final frontier.

On April 12, 1981, John Young and Robert Crippen launched on the maiden voyage of the space shuttle program in the orbiter Columbia. Although Columbia's mission was very similar to those of capsules twenty years before, it still captured an electric excitement in the United States and much of the world. Perhaps Columbia was tapping into a hope, still unfulfilled, that spaceflight would be accessible to the common man. Astronauts used to be culled from the upper echelons of the military's hot-shot jet jockies. The shuttle was supposed to make every starry-eyed child's dream of being an astronaut come true.

The Space Shuttle never fulfilled its promise, due to an undersized development budget and oversized expectations. Nevertheless, important lessons were learned. We are starting to see a new generation of passenger spaceships, like SpaceShipTwo, Dragon, and CXV. Despite the difficulties, the common man will press onwards into the final frontier.

The notion of civilian spaceflight started with the Space Shuttle, and it will outlive the shuttle program. In that sense, the shuttle program has succeeded. Hail Columbia! May the spirit of Columbia and Vostok and all the other pioneers fuel the dreams that are to come.