It was a special day in class when my first grade teacher brought a TV into class, and told us that we were going to watch something historical on this day. She pulled the knob, the picture on the tube sprung from a white point, boinging out first vertically and then horizontally, reverberating with a static crackle until the image of the Challenger came onto the screen.
The muffled countdown from Mission Control coupled with the image of Challenger's rockets belching out flame and steam were burned into my young mind. It seemed to take the rocket forever to finally break away from the ground, and it ascended slowly and gracefully, unlike the rockets I had seen in Bugs Bunny cartoons. And as the teacher began a class discussion on the significance of the Challenger mission, it blew up into a billion pieces like the Death Star. I don't remember anything after that.
That was a truly sad day, and I think it may have traumatized our teacher more than it did my class, for I don't think that we were old enough to truly comprehend the concept of death, or the significance of the multi-ethnic crew who were only just embarking on a truly special mission aboard the Challenger. Challenger, and other space programs of that time, sparked my imagination and got me interested into science and science fiction in general.
I remember reading books on how Mars was going to be transformed into another Earth, and to a five year-old, it seemed plausable that this was going to happen well before the year 2000. As time passed, the space program fell into the limelight. Most of the projects from the space program were not well publicized, government funding was at a low point, and the exciting space program became a vague memory.
But this has all started to change from relatively recently. A meteor from Mars was found to have microscopic structures bearing a strong resemblance to single cell organisms, reviving the debate as to whether Mars is, was, or will eventually be capable of supporting life. Probes have been sending back tantalizing images and information about Mars and the moons of Jupiter among other areas around our solar system. Scaled Composites won the race to space among private developers of space vehicles. Solar sails are being deployed by non-governmental agencies, more than a hand full of companies are developing plans to make space flight available to those who can afford to pay, and plans to get space hotels up and running by 2010 are being worked on.
It seems that the momentum for space exploration has regained its rightful place in the government's and the public's interest. This is a long-term goal, that will be a never-ending project. It is something that transcends all political boundaries, ethnic, and for that matter, all of the boundaries created by man and society. It cannot be comprehended by conventional scales of measurement that we are used to thinking with. Space exploration and colonization is a good metaphor for the road to the enlightenment.
And it's just cool to think about all of the cool methods of ultra-fast travel, BFGs, and other hi-tech stuff that is fiction right now will likely materialize sooner than we may expect.