Blog

January 14, 2015

Space Travel’s Biggest Benefit – World Peace? Why We Must Venture Further

spacetravel_feature_4535473625
As we enter 2015, we are beginning to see hope on the horizon for the future of space exploration, even amidst sprinklings of opposition. Recent tragedies such as the Virgin Galactic test flight crash and the failed Antares rocket launch at Wallops Island show we are at least forging ahead, and that as sad as the end of the Space Shuttle era was, we are now seeing the beginning of a new, promising age of space adventure.

Much of the opposition comes from people who still do not realize the value that space exploration has brought to our entire species in terms of advancements in technologies in all sorts of industries, as illustrated by NASA Spinoffs (a must-browse!). But what if we were to put aside all of the space-age tools used in lifesaving heart surgeries, planet-protecting green technologies, and the thousands of other contributions — dare we also declare that the sheer beauty of space travel can plant seeds of world peace and a stronger value of life on our floating blue marble? What if we were able to realize the irrelevance of trivial political squabbles and the incredible importance of taking care of our planet? Wouldn’t that by itself be enough to warrant steadfast dedication to further advance our endeavour (yeah, I spelled it like the Space Shuttle on purpose) to explore and fly to new heights?

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.””

– Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut

Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly has traveled over 4.8 million miles in space and orbited the earth 186 times since the first time he looked back at Earth during his first mission aboard STS-108 in 2001. When asked about the experience, he glared up toward the ceiling, losing himself immediately in his memories: “I remember when we hit about Mach 15, going uphill. We rolled heads up in the Space Shuttle and I took the first opportunity to look over my shoulder,” he says. “I am looking at this big blue marble behind us, which is the round planet Earth, and that was the first time I said HOLY…you know.”

Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly piloting a T-38 Talon. (Photo by Suresh Atapattu)

Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly piloting a T-38 Talon. (Photo by Suresh Atapattu)

Of all the exciting aspects of spaceflight, Cmdr Kelly says the view trumps everything else. “I had always thought that the floating in space, the zero gravity thing, would be the biggest thing about being in space, and it’s all really great; the launch, the landing, the floating, but…looking at the earth as a planet, as a round ball floating in the blackness of space, it’s unbelievable, it’s unlike anything else.”

Seeing the thin blue line of the atmosphere provided him a new perspective of how fragile our environment truly is. Kelly shared, “People don’t think about this; half of the atmosphere is below 10,000 feet, it’s like the runway length at La Guardia. That’s half of the atmosphere, and when you look at it from orbit it just looks like a little film that can be blown away by a cosmic wind, so you appreciate it a lot more.”

If you’ve ever seen any images from the Hubble Space Telescope (spoiler alert: you definitely have), you can thank Astronaut Mike Massimino, one of the few men that has helped repair and maintain it during his two trips to orbit. In March of 2002 during STS-109, Massimino exited Space Shuttle Columbia for two spacewalks. He tells his experience of taking a moment to view the Earth in all of its splendor during one of his extravehicular strolls in this video (FF to 34:35):

(If this player does not work, watch the clip on YouTube here)

Though over 10 billion people have lived on this Earth since the first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin in April of 1961, less than 550 humans have joined the ranks of “astronaut.” The good news is you don’t need to strap into a rocket to be godsmacked by the beauty of spaceflight.

A 19-year old Michigan University student at time, David Chudwin was one of two college journalists granted permission to view the launch of Apollo 11 from the VIP area in 1969. “When the countdown hit zero I saw a bright button of flame at the base of the Saturn V. Then, huge jets of flame stuck out laterally from the rocket. There was no sound for a few seconds…it then rose extremely slowly to clear the launch tower,” tells the now-64 year old physician.

The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-135, as seen from the press area. (Photo by Matt Molnar)

The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-135, as seen from the press area. (Photo by Matt Molnar)

Mr. Chudwin was experiencing something not only historic, but something physically striking from the five J-2 engines propelling what is still the largest rocket to be fired into the skies. “I then started to hear a crackling sound which developed into a loud rumble increasing in intensity until I could actually feel the sound waves thumping against my chest,” he shares of his memory, mind you, 3 ½ miles away from the launch pad.

“It has taken me years to realize the historic nature of the experience,” he says, the magnitude of the event being so surreal for a teenager to digest. “It was analogous to watching Christopher Columbus set sail or seeing the Wright Brothers take their first flight.”

For me, aviation has supplied the most cherished memories, relationships and experiences of my life. The most memorable was being fortunate enough to attend the launch of STS-135, the final Space Shuttle flight, with my pilot girlfriend and late best friend and business partner, Matt Molnar. I understood the enormous importance of this event, and after years of viewing shuttle launches through a computer monitor, I couldn’t wait. But no HD video or reading of others’ accounts could prepare me for what I was about to experience.

I was teased by a launch hold at T-minus 31 seconds, but before disappointment could even set in, the countdown continued and the vehicle actually launching put me into immediate shock. The massive trail of flame from the two solid rocket boosters and three main engines was so bright that I was literally blinded, as if I were not worthy of seeing this. The delay of its sound traveling the 2.5 miles to the media area hit me with a rumbling and crackling sound that cannot be put into words or understood by viewing any YouTube video. Once out of view, wandering from the press site, I spewed an awkward babble of nonsensical words, being unable to process what I had just witnessed.

Maria LaRosa, shooting a spot for The Weather Channel at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Rocket Garden.

Maria LaRosa, shooting a spot for The Weather Channel at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Rocket Garden.

Atlantis’ final voyage was not the end of these experiences by any means. The future is bright with multiple private companies stepping in, teaming with NASA, to continue our advancement of space exploration. United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket, carrying NASA’s Orion module, launched this past December 5th, becoming the first spacecraft to travel beyond low Earth orbit and return back to the surface in over 40 years.

The Weather Channel’s Maria LaRosa covered the launch from the press site at Kennedy Space Center, and shared her experience. “I was super-saturated in the NASA excitement for a few days. It was palpable, thrilling,” she tells, having also been impressed with the sounds of launch as being “like hearing the crackle of a roman candle with a huge amount of bass.”

Though many feel what may be a fair and healthy concern about the future of space travel lying so heavily in the hands of private companies, Maria isn’t worried. “There has been some thinking by the public that NASA went away after the Shuttle retired, that somehow ‘letting’ private companies do low-orbit missions was a mistake. However, you could feel that pride of being the ones looking beyond where we are right now. It’s ‘been there, done that, did that well, let’s do some hard stuff now.”

Witnessing launches is not just for those in the media! Public viewing for KSC launches can be found at SpaceCoastLaunches.com, and you should also keep a close eye for events arranged by NASA Social!

Grasping the beauty of space travel, and feeling immense awe for what we have and what we will continue to accomplish is absolutely priceless. Those that have experienced it in their own way would not trade it for any dollar amount, and the less-than-one-percent of the federal budget going toward this goal (even after an increase for 2015) shows that it is incredibly undervalued.

“After we stopped going to the moon, we stopped dreaming,” says astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a strong proponent of growing our space program’s budget. No, Mr. Tyson, we didn’t. We may not be in the throes of a Cold War space race, but we are taking big steps — giant leaps even — in multiple directions, for all of mankind. Though planned spacecraft may not be able to take more than a half dozen people off of our planet at a time, we all can go along for the ride in our own way. I strongly urge you all to do so.

Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has a background in online advertising and airline experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.


  • Frank

    Excellent!
    1little error; the Saturn 5 first stage engines were 5 Rocketdyne F-1s, not J-2; those were used in the 2nd stage.