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Launching Rockets

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This year’s Fourth of July—a time when Americans tend to go a little wild with pyrotechnics—saw a continuing balancing act between social distancing and celebration. Yet, streaming bridges the gap, allowing you to enjoy fireworks shows across the country from your closest screen.

But it’s not just celebrations of the nation’s independence 244 years ago for which streaming bridges the gap. The jump from bottle rocket live streams to one for a really big Falcon—as with the launch of the Crew Dragon capsule (named Endeavour by the astronauts) aboard a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket in late May—is one that streaming makes effortlessly.

That launch, and the subsequent docking with the International Space Station (ISS) about 19 hours later, provided a worldwide audience with a glimpse into space that we seldom get to see. Setting aside snarky comments regarding the astronauts picking the perfect time to leave Earth amid COVID-19 and social unrest, the launch and docking were significant technical achievements of private- and public-sector cooperation. Even more than that, though, I found it a way to engage in discussion with my family about the space program overall. 

I haven’t worked in the space program for more than a quarter-century, having left employment with a Department of Defense contractor to start a multimedia consulting firm back in 1994, but aerospace technology has been a lifelong fascination. I recently married into a family with a math-whiz wife (who, on cool days, wears a NASA sweatshirt that her late husband bought her) and two kindergarten-age daughters, and we were all keen to watch the first launch attempt of the Endeavour. 

While the first attempt didn’t pan out due to weather, we (along with several million other space buffs) watched the second on the YouTube live stream the following Saturday. At around the 2-minute mark prior to launch, as the lines were being vented, my older daughter looked up and said, “They have 2 minutes until rock off!” 

The girls continued to watch through a flawless launch, the store separation of the reusable Falcon 9, its landing on the Of Course I Still Love You recovery ship in the Atlantic Ocean, and the continuation of the Endeavour’s mission transporting astronauts Robert Behn­ken and Douglas Hurley to the edge of space. Throughout that 15-minute period, we talked a bit about the space shuttle program and moon landings, but it wasn’t until the next day—about 10 minutes before we headed to church, which had recently reopened—that we talked in more detail about Endeavour and how risky these manned programs can be.

It brought back memories of long before I worked in aerospace, watching the Challenger disaster unfold on a small television in our school classroom. And it made me wonder how we would explain the process to our children if—God forbid—the time comes that a live stream captures moments like that space shuttle disaster of so long ago.

Yet, all of that won’t stop our global thirst for answering the question of what lies beyond, and the footage of the Endeavour docking with the ISS was not only incredibly sharp and detailed, but a reminder to this 50-year-old kid that our industry delivers more than just entertainment on a global scale.

Rock on (or off, as my daughter says), Endeavour!

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