Atlantis and space

Recently I took a long and winded walk on Wikipedia and read about space shuttle orbiters.

After many years since their first launch and a decade since last mission, the surrounding (and lifting) enthusiasm about traveling in space with such machines has dissipated somehow, and the way of talking about them became more practical, less dependent on the interpretation. The details of their construction and missions, at least the ones shared publicly, appear very practical to me, and therefore interesting.

One of the pictures that struck me is one of Atlantis docked to the ISS, the international space station.

STS-132 Atlantis at ISS 1.jpg
By NASA – http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-132/html/iss023e044747.html (direct link), Public Domain, Link

When I saw it the first time, the details almost brought me to tears, and every time I see it (quite often, as it’s one of my desktop backgrounds) I smile. I see the picture as a mosaic of pieces that all need to be there for the mission to be successful. And more than the metaphorical pieces, I see the actual pieces – the tiles of Atlantis’ thermal shield, with signs of wear, the black tiles protecting the most exposed sections (and I particularly cherish the black area between the cockpit windows, as it’s a feature that airplanes don’t need) – the cabling of the ISS, so non-Earth-like in its appearance, exposed and only answering to physics and necessity – and I think: this was made possible, even if mostly for political reasons; but those were the motivation, and didn’t take part to the actual creation of the whole setup. I am emotionally indifferent to the publicity around the space shuttle, but I cry when I read the details of their construction and missions – at least what is publicly available – because I can relate to the struggles and successes of a technician with a very practical problem to solve, and I feel a profound sympathy for the finished object.

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