Tuesday, July 04, 2006

We have lift-off ... Space Shuttle Discovery

As a child, I remember watching the television at home waiting for the Space Shuttle Columbia to take off for the first time in 1981. My memory is that it didn't launch on the intended day, and it was sometime the next week that it eventually took off (to a smaller TV audience).

Memories of visits to Armagh Planetarium are fond - they had a suite of strange computers (MSXs?) for a while that accessed material off laser discs.

And I can remember going down to the local newsagent in 1986 - the Candy Box in Lisburn - on the night after the Challenger disaster to buy a copy of the papers. It was the first time I'd seen the UK papers with the front pages filled with a single image.

There was a sick feeling when Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003. A sickness of being able to watch it happen from so many different angles. A feeling of disappointment that they'd come all that way to lose it right at the end.

The interest in all things space has waned, but not been totally extinguished, over the years. I'm looking forward to my baby daughter being old enough to go down to Armagh - assuming it reopens sometime soon (though their website suggests 31 July 2006!)- and enjoy her delight at seeing the space suit, the weather satellite display, and the enthralling star show in the planetarium. The overwhelming darkness, and the thousands of stars that just appear out of no where as your eyes adjust. Wonderful memories.

And so tonight, I sat on the edge of the sofa, watching the News 24 coverage of Discovery taking off. The fear of wondering how soon it would be out of danger as it powered into the sky burning half a tonne of fuel a second. It was a relief when the shuttle separated from the booster rocket, reoriented to take some photos of the booster, and manoeuvred into position to drop into the right orbit to catch up with the Space Station on Thursday.

Happy Independence Day.

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