As I am sure most of you all know by now, I’m here at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, supporting the CST-100 Starliner Orbital Flight Test. This is history in the making, as it’s the first time a Boeing-owned and -operated human-rated spacecraft has launched into orbit.
The originally planned eight-day mission has been reduced to three days after the spacecraft experienced an off-nominal orbital insertion shortly after launch Friday morning. Having looked forward to this for a long time, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t disappointing. However, even though we’re no longer rendezvousing or docking with the International Space Station, this isn’t done, and the excitement isn’t gone. Now, it’s all about bringing Starliner home safely.
Over the past several days, I’ve been hanging out in a ground level corner office with a handful of incredible Boeing and NASA teammates.
Since we’re working some long, odd hours, there’s an abundance of two-liter soda bottles and a big tub of Christmas cookies here to help sustain us, though adrenaline itself has definitely been keeping me awake and excited.
In preparation for the anticipated landing early tomorrow morning, we’re listening intently to the Mission Control loop – it’s almost like we are actually in the room with the team. Although most of the chatter is far too technical for me to fully comprehend, it is still so fascinating.
Our group here in Houston is just a small subset of a much larger team — from communicators to engineers — all of whom are passionate about space flight. And as both a historian and a communicator, I’m so humbled to be here.
So… roughly 12 hours till our planned landing in White Sands, I ask that you please root for our team, for space and for our future.
I can tell just by looking out the window that the air outside is warmer than the air in my living room.
And no matter how hard I try — no matter how captivating the television dialogue is and no matter how loud my cats meow to try to get my attention — I can’t take my eyes off the Moon… our Moon. It feels like there’s a magnetic force between the two blue orbs protruding out of my head and that one massive, majestic orb hanging in the sky… and I don’t know why, but it’s so strong.
The sun shines on it and it glows golden and more vivid with each minute — but I know that without that massive ball of fire there to light it up, our Moon is just a gray, rocky, dusty satellite. That’s it.
Sometimes I wish we had more than one moon. I wonder what the sky would look like at night if we had two moons like Mars. I wonder what it would look like during the day if we had 60-some moons like Jupiter or Saturn. I know how excited I get when I notice mid-afternoon that the small, round, seemingly perfect cloud I’ve affixed my eyes to is actually our Moon. What if I saw dozens of them all at once?
But then, as night falls and the Moon gets higher and brighter — almost pure white against the dark blue sky — I realize just how much I love our one Moon. Of the eight planets that orbit our sun, there are two that don’t have any moons (Mercury and Venus), there’s one that has two moons (Mars), one that has 14 moons (Neptune) and one that has 27 moons (Uranus), there are two that have more than 60 moons (Saturn has 62, Jupiter has 67), but there’s just one planet that has only one moon… and that’s us: Earth.
How different would the space race have been if we had multiple moons? What would the space race have even been if we had no moons at all?
As the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first lunar landing approaches, I’m so thankful for Earth’s one and only satellite: our Moon. And knowing that 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the last human foot leaving that crater-filled ground… I’m so anxious and hopeful to see what the next generation of lunar exploration holds — for Americans and for the world.
Two hundred and sixty-four days… it sounds like a long time, but I know it will come quickly. Just about eight months from now I’ll be soaring through the clouds aboard the Queen of the Skies: a Boeing 747. While it may not sound incredibly exciting to some, it will be truly monumental for me, as it will be my first time flying on one of my favorite aircraft of all time.
Sure, I love plenty of airplanes: the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11, but those aircraft, or at least the passenger versions of them, are obsolete. My only chance to fly on one of my favorite planes was to snag a ticket on a Boeing 747. And with the help of my dad, I did just that.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
I consider only one man made “thing” on this earth to be as truly remarkable and awe-inspiring as Mother Nature herself: the airplane.
And the Boeing 747 was the inspiration behind that quote by yours truly. It’s hard not to love that plane – don’t you think?
Let’s start with how this beauty came to be. Of course the roughly 50,000 people who worked on this plane in the late 1960s are called “the Incredibles” – how could they not be given such a nickname? The engineers, the mechanics, the secretaries… they all contributed to aviation history when they seemingly “whipped up” the world’s largest civilian airplane in a mere 16 months.
The final design was offered in three different models: all passenger, all cargo, and a convertible passenger/cargo model. And I’m over the moon that my dad and I are getting to fly on the convertible model, often referred to as a “combi.”
The 747 is also the reason the largest building (by volume) was even built. The Boeing Everett Factory in Everett, Washington is where the manufacturer’s largest planes are constructed. Some equate the size of the facility to that of a city; workers even use bicycles to get around.
And it’s no wonder they had to construct that beast of a building – the 747 is huge. I work on the sixth floor of an office building in downtown Minneapolis, and knowing that if a 747 was parked on the street below, its tail would be at eye level with me, is just astounding to say the least.
While the 747’s iconic “hump” makes it so easily identifiable, the plane has been modified a number of times over the last several decades. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) modified two 747s into shuttle carriers (the first in 1976 and the second in 1988), in 1990 two were modified to serve as Air Force One, and in 2007 Boeing introduced the “Dreamlifter” – a specially modified version of the 747 used to carry large composite structures, including fuselage sections of the 787 Dreamliner. Additional modifications over the years such as an extended upper deck and the addition of winglets on some models have continued to shape the look, feel, and functionality of the plane.
Nearly three years ago, the 747 became the first wide-body airplane to reach the 1,500 milestone, when number 1,500 was delivered to Germany-based Lufthansa. And while that was reason to celebrate, the truth is – these planes may not be around much longer. Both United and Delta airlines are retiring the jumbo jet this year, and that news was what fueled my desire to catch a ride on one while I still had the chance.
The plane is gorgeous. It’s iconic. It’s a symbol of a special era in flight. And I’m ecstatic that I’ll have the privilege to fly in one. A flight in a 747 is certainly a “bucket list” item for me, as I’m sure it is for countless aviation enthusiasts. And you can bet your bottom dollar that come November 6, when I set foot on that plane and we lift off the ground, I’ll be overcome with joy as I check that item off.