Witnessing History In The Making

By Lina Younes

Just recently, I had the opportunity to witness a historic event, the launch of the final space shuttle mission Atlantis, STS-135. My husband, my youngest daughter and I traveled to Florida to participate in several launch activities tied to the shuttle’s final voyage. We visited the Shuttle Landing Facility, Vehicle Assembly Building, the Orbiter Processing Facility, the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the Launch Pad, and spoke with an astronaut and many individuals who had been working at the Kennedy Space Center since the beginning of the shuttle program. In spite of some weather challenges, Atlantis was able to launch on July 8th as planned. It landed safely on July 21st nearly 42 years to the day when astronaut Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon.

Prior to the launch, I was excitedly giving the history of the space program to my youngest in an effort for her to capture the significance of the event. As a person who actually remembers watching the first lunar landing on TV, I’ve always been in awe of space exploration. However, I quickly noticed that my daughter didn’t seem to share my excitement. She didn’t verbalize exactly it, but in spite of my explanations, she was looking at me like, “Ok…so?” That made me realize how much we take space exploration and related technologies for granted.

During the thirty years of the shuttle program, Atlantis and the other three NASA space orbiters conducted numerous experiments in space. They helped assemble and supply the International Space Station, serviced the Hubble Space Telescope, launched and serviced satellites, including many that help us gain a better understanding of our Planet Earth and our terrestrial environment. Many people do not realize that space exploration actually has an impact on our daily life and has led to green-related spinoffs technologies developed by NASA research.

As we move to a new era in space exploration, I sincerely hope that our youth will become excited about earth and space sciences so they will help protect our world, here and beyond.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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