In a few days, the last American space shuttle will be launched. An era will come to an end.
But according to the NASA PR machine in USA Today, it ain’t over yet.
The United States needs to cede its low-earth orbit missions, such as the space shuttle, to the private sector so it can free up resources to explore deep space, [NASA’s administrator and a former astronaut Charles F.] Bolden said. President Obama has directed NASA to work toward sending manned spacecraft to an asteroid and to Mars.
Translation: American astronauts will rely on the Russians to get back into space for now. The international space station will be supplied by unmanned flights funded by private corporations. Also the private sectors can have fun with suborbital flights and even sending folks to the moon for now. All of this so that NASA can focus on deep space and heading to Mars.
I should be excited about NASA going off to develop technologies for deep space travel and for getting astronauts to Mars. But I’m not.
While I’m happy that the private sectors getting to the space travel sandbox, I feel disappointed that NASA won’t get to be the one to do everything. It feels like suddenly my childhood hero wasn’t all that I thought he would be, and worse, now he is stepping aside to let his sidekicks do the work.
Maybe my view of the American space program is completely romantic. You know, the WORLD LEADING space program. The Right Stuff. First man on the moon. Oh hell, even “Armageddon” is all about the glory of American space program.
What surprises me more than anything these past few days, however, is the fact that I found myself emotionally attached to the last shuttle launch and the changes in NASA.
I guess when the space program and the astronauts were your inspirations as a kid, they still have a piece of your heart. Even long after you realized you’re never going to become a NASA astronaut.
Back home somewhere in my room, there is a copy of my 4th or 5th grade essay about what I wanted to be when I grow up.
I wanted to be the first Thai female NASA astronaut whose day job is the editor-in-chief of a magazine and whose free time spent defending her tennis championship and performing as a ballerina.
Why be one thing when you can be EVERYTHING?
It was fitting. I was publishing my own zines to share with my classmates, going to tennis and ballet lessons on weekends, and was the only person I know of in my class who had subscription to possibly Thailand’s only science magazine at the time and a shelf full of science books.
I can’t really pin point where my fascination with science came from. But I think it might have been from just me being one hell of a curious child.
Why are leaves green? Why do snails turn into bubbles and goo when my brothers put salt on them? Who put people in the television? Do robots really exist? What about Godzilla? What are the stars? Why are they up there? Where did the moon go sometimes? Are there really bunnies living on the moon? What about the space ships like in Gundam and aliens like Star Wars?
My parents indulged my curiosity and got me any books I wanted to read on just about any topic. I went far and beyond what I was taught in school. Dad, being a news junky that he is, would pass along any science articles he read in the papers and mom did the same from her magazines.
Eventually, NASA and the astronauts became my hero along with other space related characters from movies and mangas I grew up with.
I wanted to be Neil Armstrong. I wanted to land on the moon. I wanted to fly like Han Solo and fought for Macross. The Challenger accident didn’t deter me from my goal whatsoever.
(Oh, and then I also concluded that there were no rabbits on the moon because there was no air on the moon. Bunnies would need space suits and that would be silly.)
Long before I got to know The Doctor, I already wanted to see the stars.
“If you want to be an astronaut, you have to be a scientist,” my mom said. “To be a scientist, you’ll have to do good in math and science. And to work for NASA, you’ll have to know English really well.”
“Do I need a doctorate degree, mommy?”
“Yes, honey. You’ll need a doctorate degree to be an astronaut. And you know you have to study very hard to get all the way to doctorate degree.”
My mom knew exactly how to bait me.
I am blessed to have parents who supported all of my scientific endeavors, just falling short of getting me a chemistry set (there was no such thing as a “toy chemistry set” in Thailand back then) and sending me to Space Camp in the U.S. which I read about in my science magazine.
Want to spend half an hour after school in the library? Go ahead as long as you get your homework done before dinner. Want us to just leave you by yourself here at the bookstore while we walk through the mall? Okay as long as you promise to not wander off because we will leave without you (nice threat!). Want that set of kids’ science books in English? We’ll even throw in the newest Oxford Student Dictionary. (English AND science at the same time? Score!)
You need a roll of aluminum foil, a few cardboard boxes, and dad’s architect staff to help you build a parabolic dish to roast a marshmallow? The challenging part (back then) is finding marshmallows in Thailand. But yes, you can ask dad’s staff nicely to help you after work and no you can’t ask them to come back to help you on the weekend.
I scored brilliantly with science and English all of my Thai student life, having that working for NASA goal set in my mind. Math! Science! English! My ineptitude in math would eventually surface and kill my dream of becoming a scientist, and therefore becoming an astronaut. But it never dulled my passion for science.
As I grew up, the career goals and interests started to shift. All the reading about the stars led me to the stories of how the constellations get their names, and therefore to Greek and Roman mythologies. Hence, I wanted to be archeologist and editor-in-chief astronaut. Dad handed down to me his hand-cranked Pentax SLR about the same time I wanted to work for the UN because the translators were cool. So then, photographer and Ambassador of Thailand astronaut would be the next appropriate choice. Finally, I was enthralled by theater performances after my mom had taken me to a few because I had mad crushes on some TV actors. So, I then wanted to be a theater actor and advertising creative director astronaut.
Like I said, eventually my limited math skills failed me. No math, no science track for college. Was I disappointed? Yes. But at the same time, my imagination told me I still have hopes because NASA could select me for an astronaut based on my other achievements. You have a Tony Award for your stage work? Of course, NASA would send you to space for that!
A bit delusional. But hey, a childhood dream is still a dream!
The love for science didn’t perish though, despite knowing I could never be a real astronaut. By this time, you just can’t take science out of this nerd girl.
That leads us to now.
I’m just a humble unemployed communications and social media specialist who still is a huge nerd and wants to go to space someday.
Without NASA to inspire me back then, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have developed interests in computers. I wouldn’t have loved the science fiction genre. I wouldn’t have left my home country in pursuit of my career dream (at the time, the goal was to to attend Art Center College of Design to study graphic design, right up the hill from JPL!) I wouldn’t have taken my first shot at HTML or IRC or any of those computer mumbo jumbo that weird French guy in my college writing class tried to get me into.
And look at me now, while I’m not “the first Thai female NASA astronaut whose day job is the editor-in-chief of a magazine and whose free time spent defending her tennis championship and performing as a ballerina” I thought I would be, I’m still enjoying life in the science nerd kingdom in the home country of NASA itself.
Now, excuse me as I research a plan to start saving up for a Virgin Galactic flight.
Who was/is your inspiration?
What sucks is that when Bush announced (mandated) the end of the shuttle program in 2010-2011 (announced in 2005 I think), is that he didn’t allocate more funds to NASA to have the next vehicle (Constellation / Orion at the time) ready when the shuttles retired. Instead we spent $20 billion last year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s more than NASA’s annual budget (about $17.5 billion).
That, and Obama with his dumb asteroid idea. Mars, yes it’s cool, but it’ll take 20 years or more. I still don’t know why Obama ended Constellation. Orion / Constellation morphed into the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program, with the Space Launch System (SLS).
• Spacecraft to serve as the primary crew vehicle for missions beyond low earth orbit (LEO).
• Capable of conducting regular in-space operations (rendezvous, docking, extravehicular activity) in conjunction with payloads delivered by SLS for missions beyond LEO.
• Capability to be a backup system for ISS cargo and crew delivery
The Space Launch System (SLS) Program will develop a heavy-lift launch vehicle to expand human presence to celestial destinations beyond low Earth orbit. This launch vehicle will be capable of lifting the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to asteroids, the Moon, Lagrange points, and ultimately for missions to Mars. It will also serve as a backup launch system for supplying and supporting the International Space Station cargo and crew requirements not met by other available launch vehicles.
The Space Launch System will be evolvable, ultimately carrying 130 metric tons of crew and cargo to low Earth orbit. The SLS vehicle design will maximize efficiency and minimize cost by leveraging investments in legacy space launch systems to the greatest extent practicable, while using evolutionary advancements in launch vehicle design.