When I was in the 2nd grade I had my heart broken. It wasn't over some cute girl as you may expect. No, I was (and am) a geek at heart, and my heart was broken because I had learned that you could not be an astronaut if you required glasses. And there I was, in all my glory, with my glasses (I'll spare a reference to a picture here for my own sake). My dreams were shot. Space was off limits for me. In the 2nd grade I didn't realize the million other reasons why I would not be going into space. It seemed my vision was the only thing holding me back. I've always loved the stars and the exploration of our universe. If I had my pick, it would be a pretty amazing area to work in, but I'm afraid my math just isn't where it would need to be to work with all those big brains.
Like many people my age I remember the exact moment that I found out about the Challenger disaster. I was walking into my science class in junior high, and my teacher told us the shuttle had exploded. We spent the entire hour watching TV coverage of the disaster. I'll always remember that. One of those moments that is forever frozen, and locked into your brain.
We also had the experience of visiting Cape Canaveral, coincidentally shortly after the Columbia disaster. It was moving to see the freshly placed tribute to the astronauts that had died at NASA's monument. They have a very impressive monument to the astronauts that have died in the pursuit of the unknown.
So of course I was excited to see the Return to Flight today of Discovery and it's crew. The shuttle roared off the launch pad and everything went extremely smooth, or as a bunch of NASA geeks say, "nominal". After visiting Cape Canaveral and seeing these facilities in person I certainly have a bigger appreciation for the scale of everything that goes on there.
I'm happy to see that NASA is back in operation. It concerns me a bit that people think this can somehow be made risk free. After all, we are strapping people to a controlled explosion and launching them into orbit! This is dangerous, extremely risky business. We should take all precautions that are possible, but let's not kid ourselves that this is exploration, and there are dangers.
Hat's off to all of NASA, and to all those brave souls aboard STS-114. Oh, and the astronaut on the mission from Japan, he wears glasses!