Home Features Best of 2012 Best of 2012 // #90: Remembering Space Pioneers

Best of 2012 // #90: Remembering Space Pioneers

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Best of 2012 // #90: Remembering Space Pioneers
Two legendary space pioneers were remembered this year for the milestones that they accomplished.  It was 29 years after the first American woman flew in space, as we remembered Sally Ride, and 42 years since the first human being set foot on the moon with Neil Armstrong
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Armstrong is best remembered for the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon, along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.  They were the latest in a new breed of pilots, daring to push into the unknown.  With thousands of scientists, engineers, and hopeful visionaries at their backs, they were propelled by a country hell-bent on achieving the impossible.

Ride will perhaps be remembered best, not for her milestone of being the first American woman astronaut, but rather for how good an astronaut she was.  While Armstrong made space exciting, Ride strived to make Space-travel and working in space mundane, and routine.  She perhaps best exemplified the changing attitude of space; from a brave new unknown, to conquering the new world.

For most of us, we were born after Apollo.  In that time, humans have become a spacefaring species.  It has been part of what we do, even if leashed to our home planet.  Our collective vision do much more than leave footprints.  For those born in the 90’s and 00’s, the distinction between Science Fact and Science Fiction has changed.  It’s now about magnitude, and what ideas we can take from SciFi.  Human beings have spaceships.  It’s a hard thing to always remember.  We, as a species, routinely break the bonds of this planet.  We have ventured beyond our own orbit.  Farther places and bigger spaceships are only a matter of time.

Our first space pioneers were brash, adventurous, who pushed the boundary at great personal risk, like the trailblazers of the old world.  They were emblazoned in romantic and exciting times, transmitted to our homes during a decade of great change.  Our astronauts of today have a harder mission – to go to space and make it boring.

Things have changed, however.

Space is expensive business.  Missions are public.  NASA has made the conscious effort to avoid hero-type flyboys who might put missions at risk.  While Armstrong may have fit the mold in many minds, he was notably a archetypal nerd.  While he was training for Apollo missions, a test apparatus failed.  Not only did he heroically avoid death, but he made sure to snatch the data from the ship before he ejected.

Sally Ride was a shuttle mission specialist.  She founded Sally Ride Science, an outreach program that drew thousand of young girls into technical fields.  She famously spent 343 hours in space, winning respect amongst her peers.  Her professionalism and dedication were matched only by her passion and empathy for her home planet.

Our literature is full of Heroes.  Hercules.  The Lone Ranger.  TinTin.  Iron Man.  Perhaps, as we become a multi-planetary species, these types of maverick fly-boys will become household names, with their spaceflight adventures.  But the really heroes are the ones who paved the way for it to happen, especially Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride.

Godspeed.

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