There's a little content box a bit down on the right hand side of your screen there which speaks to my inner geek* - it's the NASA 'Photo of the Day' application.
Anyway, last week, (on friday or saturday, I think...) those of you with an appreciation for all things spacey might have noticed the following photograph there:
This is the Space Shuttle Discovery, rolling out to the launchpad for her final flight, scheduled for November 1. After she returns to earth for the last time, there's one flight (the Endeavour) scheduled for February 2011, and then a possible flight by the Atlantis in June. After that, it's all over for the Space Shuttle Programme, which is something I find terribly sad, in its own way.
Why? Like everything, it's all about childhood, really.
Here, from 1981, is a pic of the Columbia lifting off on her maiden voyage, and the first ever space shuttle mission - STS-1:
I've got vivid memories of this moment. When they launched Columbia, I was 9 years old, and living at Cocos. There was no TV on the islands, but a few lucky families had those new fangled 'Video Cassette Recorders' and got relatives and friends in Perth to tape shows and post them up on the fortnightly supply flight. These tapes were handed around the island from family to family, many of them literally played to pieces.
Someone taped the launch of the Columbia, and I remember watching it with my dad, on our blurry little portable TV and feeling utterly blown away by the power and grandeur of it.
But more than that - it was the ingenuity which really got me: men and women had built this thing - this spectacular machine - and now, as we watched them on our little screen on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, they were setting off into space on it. I guess that part of the power of that moment for me was the fact that, as I mentioned yesterday, on the Islands our horizons were so tiny - everywhere you looked was empty ocean. To a nine year old, living in such a tiny little world, watching a machine like the Columbia leap into the sky was more than just cool - it was liberating. For my 9-year-old self, it was a moment filled with possibilities.
And so now, when I look at that picture of Discovery on her way out to make that leap for the final time, and when I think about the end of the shuttle era fast approaching, I can't help but feel kinda sad - it's not just the end of a technology; it's the end of a tiny little sliver of my childhood.
Of course there'll be other spaceships, and other grand moments, but none will ever quite match the power of that instant viewed through the eyes of a child.
I guess that's one of the reasons I love writing for kids.
It's all about horizons.
*if we're being honest, my 'inner geek' isn't that far in. Just below the skin, really. Except for the bits where it breaks through...