I think everyone will agree with me that the year 2020 has been a nightmare from the start. Everyone I know has been begging for 2020 to be rebooted, and the world has become a CrazyTown. And with the latest crazy caused by some idiot cop, who in my opinion deserves to be behind bars, it was a breath of fresh air that 2020 finally saw some good news.
It's May 31, 2020 where I live, and I have just finished watching the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Crew Dragon capsule. It might be hard to believe, but I'm sitting here crying as I type this, and I'm not sure if I can fully explain why, but I'm going to do my darndest to try.
As far as I'm concerned, now 2020 has begun. Sure, it's nearly half over, but for the first time in 2020, I feel like hope is actually on the horizon and we can breathe again.
I've witnessed history.
For me, watching a launch into space has always been something that makes me a little emotional, even if that launch is something that I see in the movies. My children laugh at me, but I don't think I could ever properly explain to them the mix of emotions that accompanies a launch.
I was almost 5 years old when the first space shuttle was launched into space on April 12, 1981. It had such an impact on me that as a little girl getting ready to go to school for the first time that September, I was all abuzz about the shuttle. I don't remember much about it, I was 4, nearly 5, but the lasting impressions it left on my subconscious likely led to my fascination with science and space.
In truth, there are only 2 launches that I have seen live: the one from this morning, and one that I wish I could forget but never will.
On January 28, 1986, I, like so many other school children, was sitting in class preparing to watch history as the space shuttle Challenger prepared for launch. I remember the campaigns and the selection for the teacher who would be the one to go into space. And I remember how excited we kids were about it all.
So there we were, gathered around the TV watching the live feed of the launch. It was amazing, and we cheered as Challenger left the launch pad.
Then we screamed. At T+73, the shuttle exploded. And my class just happened to be watching the news station that stayed with the shuttle the entire way until its bitter end.
To this day, I watch a launch with this fear that I'll witness that again, but when it doesn't happen, the way the fear drains and is replaced by hope... I honestly struggle to explain the emotional roller-coaster that accompanies a launch for me.
I'll be honest, at T-5min this morning, I actually watched the footage of Challenger again. I don't know why I did it, but I did. And I was crying yet again.
Studying engineering with one of the investigators was an experience.
Between the years of 1994 and 1997, I studied for a Bachelors of Engineering. In one of my courses, we were learning about various welding techniques and what they meant for industrial engineering. I'm not sure exactly how we got onto the topic, but Challenger came up.
My lecturer at the time was one of the investigator on the Challenger incident. It was his job as an engineer with expertise on welds to look at the information that came from the Challenger incident (before and after the accident) to work out what went wrong. As emotional as it was to watch the Challenger launch all those years ago, it was fascinating to get information about the O-ring flaw and how it was something that happened years before the incident that led to that fateful day.
As a side note, that lecturer was also involved in the refurbishment of the lane extensions on the Auckland Harbour Bridge (affectionately known as the "Nippon Clip-ons"), and he explained in detail how they were constructed. Let's just say that knowing how they're constructed didn't ease my nerves every time I went across that bridge — which was twice a day while I was studying at the Auckland University. Whenever the bus decided to use the Nippon Clip-on, I would panic a little, but that's a tale for another day.
A family moment
This morning's launch will contain many memories filled with awe and joy. Let's start with the fact that I watched the launch live with my 18-year-old son. 7:30am on a Sunday, and he actually got up out of bed and watched the launch with me. No one else in the family did, but I didn't expect them to either. My son and I are the true science geeks of the house.
He was tired and glassy eyed, but there was still that smile of wonder on his face. Both of us marvelled at how fast the launch was from the point of ignition to the moment the rocket left the launch pad. That was NOTHING like watching the shuttle launches.
And seeing the separations of the staged rocket sections... It was... Well, I can't say a ballet, but it was still graceful in the science-geeky way.
We laughed when the message from "I love you" came up, only to be greeted moments later with a view of the drone recovery ship and the vertical stage-1 rocket.
Whether I'm awake or not for it, I will watch the docking to ISS, and I'll likely go into serious geek mode. And I have already told my son what I would like for my birthday this year.
I collect dragons. Need I say more?
It's just a glimmer of hope.
The world is still CrazyTown. It was surreal to witness the reporters on the NASA feed to be 2 meters or more away from the people they were interviewing. And seeing those in the control rooms wearing masks... It was a vivid reminder that COVID-19 is still running out of control. And the news across my other feeds is flooded with images of riots taking place throughout the US.
But with all the negative that has claimed the first 6 months of 2020, I feel that I can finally breathe.
We have a long road ahead of us, and I'm fairly confident that 2020 hasn't finished inflicting CrazyTown on us, but NASA and SpaceX have delivered a glimmer of hope that we will come through this time. That's what I will be clinging to, because I need to.
(Feature Image: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule are seen during liftoff of May 30, 2020 (May 31 in New Zealand). The rocket, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, was the first launch of astronauts on an American rocket from American soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. Photo courtesy of NASA.)