Friday, July 22, 2011

So long, and thanks....

So there it was. Thirty years and 134 missions, and the Space Shuttle era has officially ended.

The reason I mention this is not because I have anything startlingly original to add to the conversation, because I don’t. It’s because the Space Shuttle has undoubtedly contributed to my becoming a sci-fi fan and writer.

I was seven when the programme started – old enough to have been aware of it, too young to remember what I thought of it at the time. But in those days, the shuttle was exotic, exciting. Launches still made the news, even when they went off without a hitch.

Of course, it’s the one that didn’t go off without a hitch that I still remember. John Craven had the job of telling the nation soon after it happened. And not long after that I was given a plastic kit of the Shuttle and its Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, which I made into Challenger, seeming at the time the best tribute a pre-teenage boy could pay.

But - and I admit that what I am about to say is a little bit shallow – the reason I remember the Challenger disaster is not because of the immensity of the event, but because the Space Shuttle had captured my young imagination. I had the toy shuttle from Moonraker, I had read the specs in magazines and books, I was even, in my youth, quite proficient at drawing the Shuttle orbiter.

I’ll stop there, before I start sounding like some kind of Shuttle fanboy. At some point, of course, the routine shuttle launches stopped making the news. I stopped being a Shuttle fanboy. Arguably, I grew out of it, as did much of the media. But whatever it was about the shuttle that caught my imagination – fed by space Lego, Luke Skywalker and endless Star Trek re-runs – I never grew out of.

So, even though the Space Shuttle will always be my spaceship, I can still look with interest (and possibly a little excitement) at the developments that are already happening at Virgin Galactic, where the next generation of space travel seems to be drawing ever nearer, ready to spark the imagination of the next generation.

Of course, if I was a science-fiction writer, I would probably be wondering what space travel landmark we will be marking in 2041…

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