So, we’ve got a new year. A new start, as some see it.
I guess I’m just not that sentimental. It’s more of a continuation of what came before, in my view.
That’s about as exciting as I can stand it, frankly. Because what came before is absolutely incredible. What comes next is truly inspirational.
While rocking away the evening on my porch last night, gazing off to the East with a perky glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in one hand and a fist full of slow burning Nicaraguan tobacco in the other, I found myself considering the epic journey we’ve been on as a species, and the even more ambitious exploits that await us.
Boeing has gotten a bit of a black eye in the news recently, what with its 737 Max issues followed by the much-publicized failure of its Starliner to reach its intended orbit. Yet, that perception of failure has more to do with unimaginative reporters with little sense of history than it does with anything resembling actual failure.
There will be bumps along the road of discovery. Some big, some small. It all tends to smooth out in the long run, though. That’s historically true.
New products often expose new issues that were unforeseen in prior, less capable products. Anyone who has been paying attention for the past few decades can attest to that being the case with the space program.
When I first crawled on the face of the earth no human had ever been outside our atmosphere. Today people live and work off-planet every single day. Not that most of us notice. We’re too caught up with the nonsensical gossip of the day.
There is little doubt the 24/7 news coverage cycle brought to us by the advancement of cable television and streaming Internet has dumbed down what we accept as news that is worthy of our attention. A car accident here, a plane crash there, violence in a neighborhood more than a thousand miles away, a localized outbreak of a disease in a different hemisphere, and of course, national politics.
The question is rarely asked, “What does this have to do with us here in Anytown, USA?” And so, the drone of drivel goes on and on and on.
As all of this runs through my head, the whine of turbines overhead attracts my attention. The sun is long gone, leaving a dark sky above, flecked with stars and planets peeking through holes in a thin scattered layer that slowly slides across my field of view. A red flashing beacon grabs my eye. Clearly recognizable navigation lights flank the beacon. If I were to pick up my phone, FlightAware could identify that specific aircraft in a heartbeat.
From my rocking chair, the naked eye tells me the basics. It’s a transport category turbine powered machine with seats for more than 100 passengers. The odds are most, if not all, those seats are occupied by folks flying off over the horizon for personal reasons. For the enjoyment of the journey and the memories they’ll cherish. That’s good enough for me.
This relatively mundane sighting was the stuff of science fiction when my porch was first built. The original owner would have been astounded to witness what I see overhead night after night. The short-lived deHavilland Comet hadn’t entered service yet. It was piston power or nothing back then, and air travel was generally restricted to the wealthy and the business traveler. There were darned few family flights to Grandma’s house for the holidays back in those days.
Similarly, space travel was a fanciful dream to all but a handful of engineers and administrators. The term “astronaut” hadn’t come into being yet. So few pilots were involved that you could fit the whole crew into a single family station wagon.
Neil Armstrong was flying fighters over Korea when workmen were pouring the cement for the porch my rocking chair sits on. Only five years earlier he’d been home, in Ohio, earning his private pilot certificate in an Aeronca Champ. An airplane that was modern and thrilling in those days. It’s a classic and every bit as thrilling to fly today.
Not much changes, really. Not when we view life through the prism of the human element. Hardware improves. Humans simply adapt to their new environment. A relatively small group of us push for even more capable hardware, which larger numbers of our friends and neighbors can benefit from.
There is a high school not far from my home where roughly 150 students are enrolled in an aerospace program. There is another high school on the other side of the county where more than 300 students participate in a similar program. One group has their own flying club. The other is in the process of forming a club of their own.
Yes, hundreds of high school students are preparing to climb into a cockpit to challenge themselves and broaden their personal horizons, right here where I live.
There may be a similar program getting underway where you are. If there’s not, you could help get one underway without much effort or expense. Which means, if there’s not a program in your neighborhood, there probably should be. An educational system that isn’t preparing its students to adapt to and excel at the technology of the day is hardly a worthwhile educational system.
Fight me on that one. Go ahead, I dare you.
Five years from now I hope I’m still sitting on my porch, enjoying an adult beverage and a cigar. Thankfully, it faces East, so I can watch rockets lift off from the Space Center, carrying SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, and Boeing’s Starliner into orbit.
Perhaps one of those high school students will be on the tip of that rocket, flying off to a space station, or the moon, or Mars, on a trip that will ultimately benefit mankind.
That could happen. It will happen. And I intend to spend the rest of my days fully supporting that outcome.
I’ll enjoy the view as it happens, too. May you do the same.