Watching the Shuttle piggybacked onto a NASA 747 swoop through lower Manhattan glistening in the sunshine made me giddy as a schoolgirl and proud to be an American.
Yes, I am a child of the "Space Age". I remember watching with silent anticipation as numerous astronauts blasted off into space and being giddy at the final countdown as we all shouted "Blast Off" as the giant thrusters hurled these brave men into orbit. Knowing how important these events were to our young American minds, my elementary teachers brought small black and white televisions into the classroom, the lights were turned off, and we were allowed to watch the events unfold live before our very eyes. All other broadcasting ceased while these brave men risked their lives hurling themselves atop a giant Saturn V rocket. These men were our heroes - real heroes. President Kennedy, President Johnson, and, yes, President Nixon encouraged us to reach for the stars and every little boy wanted to be an astronaut (and even little girls too!). We were told that we were in a race for the future of the world and whoever wins would dominate. Who would win this race - the evil Russians or the Good Americans? These men and their rocketships were the key to a secure world for freedom loving people everywhere.
Twelve years after watching Neil Armstrong step on the Moon, once again I was sitting in a darkened room watching a small black and white television with the same child-like anticipation waiting for the Space Shuttle Columbia to make its first touchdown ushering a new era of space flight. It was still breathtaking. Since then we have had SkyLab, the International Space Station, unmanned flights to Mars, and the Hubble telescope which have all allowed us to see further into space with each new achievement and the benefits to mankind have been numerous.
We were indoctrinated as young children of the '60's to believe that we were the greatest nation on Earth and that we could achieve great things if we worked together. What our country has achieved though the space program with all the astronauts, scientists, engineers, and medical personnel is something that no head of state or politician has ever achieved without a war - global cooperation for the benefit of all mankind. It may be the indoctrination talking, but that makes me pretty darn proud to be an American.