Tag Archives: Mercury

Waiting for mission to Mars

My late father looked forward to welcoming the 21st century.

He didn’t make it, falling about 20 years short of his goal.

Accordingly, I have my own life goal. It is to welcome the launch of the first manned mission to Mars — or to wherever the Orion spacecraft is going to take human beings.

NASA launched an unmanned Orion craft from FloridaĀ the other day. It flew two orbits around Earth and then splashed down successfully in the Pacific Ocean. I found myself holding my breath as the Delta rocket lifted off in that agonizingly slow climb off the launch pad — reminiscent of the Saturn V rockets that took Apollo astronauts to the moon.

So, the first launch was a success.

What now? NASA will continue its research and will eventually send humans into Earth orbit aboard the Orion, perhaps within the next three years or so.

They’ll perform various tests on Orion to ensure that its gadgets work correctly. Once they’ve made that determination, they’ll prepare to send astronauts into deep space.

I’m not talking a mere quarter-million miles, the distance to the moon.

Oh no. I’m talking several tens of millions of miles to Mars, or perhaps to Jupiter to explore one of the giant planet’s moons. The missions will last many months.

I so badly want to be around to watch those missions blast off. I want to relive the thrill that the Mercury and Gemini missions would bring to my mother and me as we’d awake in the wee hours and wait through interminable delays and mission “scrubs.” Technical glitches would develop. Then it would be the weather. Then more glitches. But they’d launch eventually and Mom and I would cheer theĀ astronautsĀ as they soared into orbit.

The Orion launch the other morning whetted my appetite.

After all, exploration is what human beings do.


Thrill returns at rocket launch

A curious feeling came over me this morning as I watched the television screen.

A rocket took off from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. It was carrying — on its maiden flight — the Orion spacecraft. The Delta rocket roared to life, spewing flame and roaring like a thousand freight trains, and then it lifted off slowwwwly into the sky.

I began muttering under my breath: Come on, come one, come on.

Then I realized something. I was smiling broadly, ear to ear. I was feeling a thrill similar to what I had watching astronauts blasting into space aboard their Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and space shuttle craft.


Hey, this was a big launch today.

Orion is being developed as the United States’s long-range vehicle that eventually will carry astronauts into deep space. I’m talking about Mars. Or perhaps to one of Jupiter’s moons. Or maybe to an asteroid.

It flew two orbits around Earth this morning, then splashed safely and on target into the Pacific Ocean.

Mission accomplished.

I’ll admit to being a sap when it comes to space flight. I’ve wept at the sight of rockets launching and at the sight of spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere. Heck, I’ve watched the film “Apollo 13” about, oh, 20 or 30 times and I still get misty when Jim Lovell tells NASA ground controllers that the spacecraft is coming home safely after that harrowing rescue mission in April 1970.

Orion’s first manned flight is years away. Its maiden voyage to the great beyond is even farther into the future.

I hope to be around to watch it take humans into our solar system. Yes, I’ll be crying.


It's been 45 years since that 'giant leap'

Allow me this admission: I didn’t do much thinking Sunday about the 45th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon.

I was too busy traveling home from a glorious weekend with my family.

And to be frank, thinking of that day saddens me a little. It’s not because of the event itself. The late Neil Armstrong’s first step off the Apollo 11 lunar lander was captivating at a level I’d never experienced. “One giant step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” became a mantra to be repeated by proud Americans everywhere.

No, the sadness comes in realizing where we’ve gone — or not gone — in the decades since then.

We landed a few more times on the moon, had a near-tragedy when Apollo 13 exploded en route — only to be brought home in a miraculous seat-of-the-pants rescue effort. Alan Shepard, America’s first man in space, got to land on the moon and hit that golf shot that went miles.

Those were heady times.

Then the missions became “routine.” How sad. NASA pulled the plug after Apollo 17. It embarked on the Skylab mission to test humans’ long-term endurance in space. Then came the space shuttle experiment, with its huge highs and devastating tragedy.

Then it ended. The shuttle fleet is retired. We’re piggybacking into space aboard Russian rockets.

I admit to longing for the days when we could get re-inspired the way we were when President Kennedy made it the national goal to “put a man on the moon before the decade (of the 1960s) is out and return him safely to the Earth.” We had that big, bad Soviet Union to race to the moon. We won that contest.

Now there’s some vague talk about going to Mars — eventually. Why “vague” talk? Because one hardly ever hears anything publicly about what’s going on. NASA engineers are toiling in obscurity — apparently — designing a vehicle to take humans to the next planet out there in our solar system.

My late mother and I spent many mornings awaiting the launches of the early space missions. Mercury and Gemini preceded the Apollo program. We agonized over the delays. Cheered at the launch. Wept with joy when the men landed safely in the ocean.

I’ve never grown tired of watching these vehicles lift off from the pad and roar into space. It pains me that the nation became bored with it.

I am grateful to have watched humanity’s first steps on the moon. I surely now want to live long enough to hear someone say, “Houston, we have landed on Mars.”