Kate Gramling Principal consultant Illumineer

Rockets, Distractions, & Inspiration

PostedThursday, May 28, 2020 at 5:51 PM

Rockets, Distractions, & Inspiration

First confession: I was one of those people watching NASA Live yesterday afternoon.

I tuned in early and watched with building excitement as timers ticked away the seconds until the Demo-2 flight to the International Space Station (ISS) was to blast off from Florida. I felt my optimism rise as propellant began flowing into the Falcon 9 rocket, and tried – unsuccessfully – not to feel let down when the launch had to be scrubbed due to weather.

This would have been the first time in nearly 10 years that astronauts headed to the ISS would be taking off from US soil. Despite suits and rockets that reminded me of illustrations in science friction stories from 1960’s, the technology developed for the Crew Dragon is fascinating.

Just the testing that went into making this launch possible is a masterful demonstration of the power of engineering design.

Second confession: I didn’t realize until yesterday morning that the launch was scheduled for the afternoon.  I knew a launch was upcoming, but amid the all the gloomy and divisive news of late, I had lost track of the date.

It is easy to be distracted – particularly when we’re stuck in what seems like a morass of competing problems. And if I’m honest with myself, I wasn’t thinking about engineering design or achievements when I tuned into the launch. I was watching because in my heart there’s still a little girl who dreamed of being an astronaut when she grew up.

I wanted to be awed and inspired.

But the more I listened and watched, and the more I’ve read since, the more interesting the entire project has become to me.

Technological achievements — particularly one-time events like a rocket launch — often become rallying points for those with an agenda. A number of negative opinions have been published about commercialization of space travel. Perhaps an equal number have cheered America’s “re-entry” into space exploration. Some disparage the entire effort while we’re in the midst of a global pandemic.

Opinions are more common than facts. To be technologically literate, we have a responsibility not only to understand technology, but to consider its place in society. And we need to be skeptical in analyzing the arguments. Yesterday, I was reminded that this takes effort. I will continue to learn and think about this long after Saturday’s launch (at 3:22pm EDT). However...

Final confession: Regardless of what the experts, pundits, or other people say, I’ll be watching Saturday because it will be an engineering achievement that inspires. I still want to be awed and inspired.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off NASA/Tony Gray