There comes a moment in every shuttle launch where I waiver – can I watch this? Can my nerves take it? Inevitably, I watch, and inevitably I hold my breath as “go with throttle up” is announced. Go, go, go – will she go all the way? Or will she break apart, 73 seconds into her launch. The indelible memory of Challenger repeats itself in my mind’s eye at every launch; Columbia repeats on every landing.
Today my stomach tied itself in new knots as Atlantis sat on the launch pad – a launch pad I flew over just a few weeks ago, my face pressed against the plane window in complete awe and astonishment at seeing something so amazing with my own eyes. I felt myself hold my breath, hold and hold as the engines lit, go with throttle up, up and up she went, until Atlantis was nothing more than a bright, glowing star against the afternoon sky. And as I let my breath out, so came the tears that rise with every successful launch, every successful landing. Tears of awe, amazement, remembered sorrow, and joy, sheer joy at the power and creativity and inventiveness of humanity.
We can reach the stars – or, at least, the far side of the moon.