Historical moments

A friend shared on Facebook recently one person wondering if they would see any significant moments of history in their life, followed by a shocked reaction to recent events.

I think when we are younger we all wonder if we will see something important happen, only to realize later that we are seeing history unfold. Instead of trying to cover a wide range of items I’ll concentrate on just a few. If I were to try and touch a little on everything that’s happened in most of my lifetime it could cover several books. In my nearly 50 years there have been the moon landings, the Vietnam War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, the Kansas City bombing, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the end of the Soviet Union, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the wars in the Mid-East and Afghanistan, plus changes in politics.

For me a historical aspect that has held interest is the space program. I know for some people that might not seem like much of an aspect of history, or even inconsequential, but it did have an impact at one time, and it may again. Beginning in the 1950s, the U.S. and the Soviet Union began the space race. The Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, but the U.S. claimed, what was then, the ultimate prize with the Apollo 11 astronauts landing on the moon. An aspect of the space race was that students were encouraged to study the sciences and mathematics.

While the space race had its darker aspect, concerning nuclear weapons, it also had its moments of good will. In 1972, there was the Apollo–Soyuz project, where two space capsules, one crewed by American astronauts and the other by Soviet cosmonauts, docked together. It’s also had its benefits with weather and communication satellites. There’s also the International Space Station, where scientists discover the effects of being in space on people, animals and plants, plus other experiments. Along the way we’ve also discovered new aspects of science and engineering.

The U.S. began its space shuttle programs, the launchings drew people together to see them. The country also came together, but in grief, with the space shuttle disasters of Challenger and Columbia. I was in high school when Challenger was destroyed. I remember my English teacher asked if we had heard about it. For me it was the first I learned about it and I asked if there had been any survivors. My classmates thought this was a dumb question. I was thinking that perhaps the explosion had happened on the launch pad and someone could have been saved. When my teacher told me no, I felt like I had been punched in the gut.

I think the reason I reacted that way was because I’ve always had a fascination with space. I’ve always thought it would be amazing for humanity to travel to other planets or to set up stations on another world. Also, I found it a point of national pride that we had such a program and for it to become one of national loss in an instant was a hard pill to swallow.

Over time we have seen the space race slow down and cutback in funding to NASA. That may be changing in the near future. In the last year, there have also been announcements by the U.S. China, Japan and India to go back to the moon or further. We’ve also had stories about private companies looking into sending people to Mars. So far, they are just stories with timelines of reaching their destinations by 2030, so we will have to wait and see if this news actually becomes a moment in history.