July 9th, 2011

krazy koati

Calling occupants of interplanetary most extraordinary craft

Events in spaceflight are either just about instantaneous, or are indefinitely prolonged. If that observation isn't Arthur C Clarke's, it should be.

Many of the big, flashy events of spaceflight are done in seconds: the controlled explosion of liftoff, the tension relief of touchdown, the anxiety that goes away as the first successful steps are taken. But between those moments are incredible pauses: the years it takes for a probe to get to another planet; the days taken to reach the Moon; even the hours to rendezvous with the space station.

We live in a culture that doesn't cherish pauses, or quiet time. Even simple white space so essential to good design looks like waste and gets squeezed out, as any web page stuffed past the point of good design reminds us. Sometimes we get a reminder, in a day that refuses to be rushed and yet doesn't feel wasted, perhaps because the scenery is so beautiful, perhaps because the company is so wonderful, perhaps because we just notice how much there is in the simple elegance of being.

For the space shuttle launch today I got up for it, a reminder to those days when I and Shuttle were not yet ten, and the promise was boundlessly exciting. What we hadn't had in 1981 was NASA TV, and the chance to watch not just the thrilling moments of liftoff, or the loud and nervous patch through to Solid Rocket Booster separation, but the steady time with just the External Tank and the apparently uniform ascent into orbit, and for time beyond. The fastness of the actual changes is not reflected in what the eye can see; in fact, the image can look for minutes like it isn't changing at all, with just the subtle flutterings of clouds passing behind the struts as proof time is even passing.

There is much that's thrilling in spaceflight; I'm glad, this morning, I enjoyed its quiet.

Trivia: Rockwell International received notice of its winning the contract to build the space shuttle orbiter on 26 July 1972. Source: Development Of The Shuttle: 1972 - 1981, T A Heppenheimer.

Currently Reading: Michael And The Magic Man, Kathleen M Sidney.