With the Space Shuttle Atlantis landing today at Edwards Air Force Base, America’s space shuttle program is officially finished. The Columbia was the first space shuttle to orbit the Earth and then return for re-use. This pioneering orbiter was named after the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe, the Columbia Rediviva. The NASA mission patch for their vessel’s maiden voyage nicely highlights this parallel (image below).
All the five space shuttles were named for seafaring ships. Here is a video discussing the space shuttles and their namesakes. A sailing ship of old may have met its end foundering on a rocky coast. As you may remember, the modern day Columbia’s tragic destruction happened during her 28th mission.
She met her end not on coastal rocks but on the Earth’s outer coast of ever-thickening atmosphere; these air particles get compressed and so heated by the vessel’s supersonic speed—24 times the speed of sound. Just as water will find its way into a damaged ship’s hull, so hot gases infiltrated a small area of damaged heat tiles and into Columbia’s left wing. The damage spread and soon the vessel’s body disintegrated.
While most of us are not called to take the risks of being an astronaut, the majority of us are descended from ancestors who risked coming here to a new country. I hope, that as a person living in these times, I may keep their spirit of discovery and growth alive. Growth and discovery today needs must be very different than it was 200 years ago, but we still must find our way.