I know that many of you can recall the days of going to the matinee movie and watching Buck Rogers in his adventures through space. This was all based upon a 1928 publication which I’m sure a few of my other readers might even recall. The adventures of Buck Rogers, whether in comic strips, radio, movies and television became an important part of American popular culture.
Those writers and cartoonists would follow in the footsteps of men such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs as we opened our minds to what the future might hold for us.
Following in their footsteps would come Gene Roddenberry who would create the iconic TV series “Star Trek.” That creation would find households around the country following the exploits of Captain James T. Kirk, his First Officer Spock, Ship’s Surgeon Bones McCoy and the ingenious Chief Engineer “Scotty,” as they would “boldly go where no man has gone before.”
The first episode ran on September 8th, 1966, and the last episode on June 3, 1969, to the dismay of many of its loyal fan base. However, the series would resume in 1987 with “Star Trek the Next Generation” and four other chapters. It would also jump to the “big screen,” as the storyline continued to live in theaters around the world.
However, no one could have anticipated the thirst for adventures in space that came with the release of the blockbuster hit introduced to us by creator George Lucas on the big screen, when “Star Wars” was released in 1977. Since then numerous new chapters of the iconic initial release continue to capture the imagination and minds of young and old alike in theatres around the world.
I think we’ve always been drawn to the stars and the thought of space exploration and the discovery of new worlds, however, it took a backseat to national security and the perceived and actual threat of a stronger Soviet presence in the world.
Understanding the important strategic and technological advances, we attempted to develop the ability to launch larger and heavier payloads into space using rockets. We had the technology to do so by the mid-50s. It was only after the Soviets launched the satellite Sputnik in 1957 that we understood the importance of space and its related technology.
Due to costly mistakes early on in the U.S. program, it would take until January 31st in 1958 that American Explorer 1 would reach orbit. A great success for the fledgling American Space Program. Unlike the Soviet programs, our mistakes were made in public and not cloaked in secrecy.
In 1958, under President Eisenhauer, we saw the creation of NASA (National Aeronautical and Space Administration). It is an independent agency of the United States Government responsible for the civilian space program as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.
President Kennedy on May 21, 1961, boldly told a Joint Session of Congress the U.S. “should commit ourselves to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
He characterized space as a new frontier in an effort to invoke the pioneer spirit of America, as he sought to rally support for this desire to accomplish that goal.
“We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard,” said Kennedy at his speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, in Houston. That speech infused America with a sense of urgency and destiny and they rallied behind the young President and the Apollo Program.
Kennedy would not live to see that accomplishment, but many credit his bold vision that made the first manned landing on the moon a reality that occurred on July 20, 1969, and last year celebrated the 50th anniversary of that wonderful achievement.
In 1972, we began the Space Shuttle program which saw its conclusion on June 28, 2011, with the launch of STS-135. My friend Jon Bush and I had the privilege of witnessing that occurrence, having driven up from Marco Island on that day. Some feared we might be witnessing end the wonderful accomplishments that the American Space Program has brought to us.
However, today we are witnessing the rebirth of that iconic commitment to go forth into the stars. The programs never went dormant, but instead has been formulating a plan to move forward through the innovation and technological genius of the American scientific and hi-tech community.
Two American companies have developed spacecraft that will soon be lifting astronauts towards the stars in either a SpaceX Crew Dragon or Boeing Starliner CST-100 for the first time in almost a decade.
SpaceX is owned by Elon Reeves Musk and has launched over 60 satellites into orbit since founding the company in 1999. Musk is the majority stockholder in SpaceX as well as his TESLA automotive company.
Boeing is, of course, another major aerospace manufacture but has suffered some setbacks as of late in its drive to carry the first astronauts back into space.
Marco Island is connected to space also first and most prominently by our own Michael Collins who was a member of the Apollo 11 Mission, which saw the first humans ever to set foot on the moon.
Today, Marco Island resident and photographer Scott Schilke has a front-row seat at the Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center, while recording the launches of America’s continuation as a leader in the fascinating world of space exploration.
His spectacular shots of the lift-offs from the pads at Cape Canaveral are phenomenal to say the least as he looks forward to what he describes as a decade as inspiring as the early days of America’s Space Program.