Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Discovery "Safely Down on Earth"??

Somehow as I open this blank page, I'm hearing Mary Travers sing "500 miles, 500 miles, 500 miles from my home." Except with Discovery, it's five million miles, five million miles... actually just shy of two full weeks, traveling 5.8 million miles, 219 times around Earth.

California here they come. And can you imagine sailing down to a dark runway at a descent rate 20 times faster than the last time you got butterflies on an airliner? And these guys have a lot more to be fiddling with than their setbacks and tray tables.

I hear there's a Lance [Armstrong] for president web site. Well, that might be a goofy idea (fame/focus/diligence and political acumen/charisma are two different things), but how about Eileen Collins for something? She's just 48, already retired as a colonel from the air force, and this was probably her last space flight. Collins spoke so well of her mission, both technical and tactical - putting it in the perspective of human achievement, an astral ambassador (a la Neil Armstrong or even John Glenn) for the future. As Collins' 79 year old father, James (a retired postal worker), said today, this is "the day of my life.... We're always the parents of Eileen, [but] Eileen right now, to me, belongs to all of us. Right at this point, I can say she belongs to the world."

I'd say so, and I think "Eileen" might really have the right stuff for politics and people. She's a sharp choice for NASA envoy. I've got a crush on that calm "We are ready for whatever we need to do" voice. Gotta say I'll bet there are legions of anxious STS-114 watchers who have noticed in themselves a growing urge to hear Collins' voice safe and sound.

As could be seen in reporters' repeated questions about "the ghosts of Columbia" and "anxious moments, and as opposed to the robotic sort of space exploration others more squeamish (and perhaps "practical") prefer, human space flight, with its blue jump suits, friendly faces and allusions to human frontiers and The Quest, appeals deeply to the sentimental and romantic side of the beleagured American character, still wanting something grand, glorious and peaceful for all those tax dollars.

And so, welcome back, commander and crew, to life as we know it - not as it is in the heavens.

Now for the really tricky part - with so many more variables than space flight - the adventure that is... life back on Planet Earth.



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