By: Dave Bowman
In the not too distant future, on a warm, hazy Florida morning, a familiar voice will be conducting a ritual gone way too long from the national psyche… “…guidance is internal…12, 11, 10, 9…ignition sequence started…5, 4, 3, 2, 1…we have ignition…all engines running…launch commit, we have lift off! Orion, the first manned mission to Mars, has cleared the tower!”
With the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011, it seemed that the legendary and mythical American manned space program was at a standstill, with nothing on the horizon, so to speak, to put our astronauts back in the cosmos. We were to rely on catching a ride on a Russian rocket to get to the International Space Station, sort of like bumming a ride off of anyone you could to get home from college for spring break. I hope we have had the courtesy to offer gas money or at least bring along tuna salad sandwiches for the long drive. But the steely-eyed, white-shirted, crew cut, pocket protector wearing NASA “Rocket Men” had different ideas.
Just recently the first unmanned test of our new multipurpose crew spacecraft was launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Orion, as it is called, is a throwback to the golden days of space exploration. It is gumdrop shaped, much like the Apollo space capsule, and returns to earth under a canopy of parachutes into the ocean. Now, bear in mind this is our NEW cutting edge “Chariot to the Stars.” To put it into perspective, the last time this type of vehicle flew in 1975 with the Apollo-Soyuz space mission, Richard Nixon was still in the White House, the laser printer was invented, “Captain and Tenille” were making hit records, people were wearing mood rings, Roy Scheider told Robert Shaw in JAWS “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” American Express was telling consumers they “shouldn’t leave home without it,” Betamax (Beta) video tape was released, gasoline was 44 cents per gallon, BIC launched the first disposable razor and Saturday Night Live debuted on television.
Although the look and method of travel is familiar, Orion is light years ahead of its ancestors, with years of technology and knowledge going into its illustrious new shell and soul. And yet, it still harkens back to the days when America dreamed, and is dreaming again, of reaching out and touching the heavens. We have come full circle, and it feels kinda good.