Communion Of Dreams

The Magic Bus.

I’ve written previously about how the early NASA space program filled my youth and fueled my imagination, and how that enthusiasm persisted through the cynicism of young adulthood and even into the more resigned reality of my middle years. To this day, movies such as The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 trigger an upwelling of that excitement, that pride.

Some of the most iconic images from those movies is the actual launch sequence – the ignition of the rocket engines, of brave astronauts riding fire into space. Well, via Phil Plait, here is a wonderful video of the inside of the flight deck of Shuttle Endeavour during the final countdown and into low orbit of STS-123. As the Bad Astronomer says:

You can see three astronauts in their suits preparing for the mission, and it’s really remarkable how they act. They’re clearly excited, but mostly all business. During the actual launch, they seem to be very nonchalant, simply doing what they need to do; it doesn’t look much different then I must look as I fasten my seatbelt, adjust the rear view mirror and pull out of my driveway in my car.

It’s a really odd juxtaposition! All the usual words we hear when we watch a launch are there, but somehow I expected the astronauts to be more animated, more excited. Instead, they mostly just sit there. They look like they’re taking the bus downtown, not a multi-billion dollar rocket into space!

He’s right – but what a magic bus it is! It isn’t nearly as dramatic as the movies noted above make it look to be – it’s actually more like the sort of casual acceptance of spaceflight found in SF. Because for these people, it is reality.

The video is just under 24 minutes long – and most of the ‘action’ takes place during the first five minutes or so (the three minutes before launch, then the first two minutes of flight). Because of our conditioning by movies and television, you might find yourself getting bored by it all – reality seldom comes with dramatic music. But if you sit back, and try to let it sink in that this is actually happening (well, has actually happened, almost two weeks ago), there is almost a sense of awe that sinks in. At least there is for me.

Jim Downey

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