The Space Age is returning to orbit once again

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If you were staring at the skies on Sunday night, there is a good chance you saw the SpaceX rocket launch that blazed across the coast of California.

The rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles around 7:30 p.m.

It was a short flight, touching back down on earth in fewer than ten minutes after having delivered the SAOCOM-1A Earth-observation radar satellite into orbit. This was the first time SpaceX landed a rocket on the West Coast, as most of the launches take place in Florida.

If you were staring at the skies on Sunday night, there is a good chance you saw the SpaceX rocket launch that blazed across the coast of California.

The rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles around 7:30 p.m.

It was a short flight, touching back down on earth in fewer than ten minutes after having delivered the SAOCOM-1A Earth-observation radar satellite into orbit. This was the first time SpaceX landed a rocket on the West Coast, as most of the launches take place in Florida.

I was driving my siblings home from an evening church service when we saw the flare of the rocket. We pulled the over to the side of an empty road that was hugged by trees and lit by only an occasional set of passing headlights, though the longer we stayed to watch, the more headlights joined our own on the shoulder.

When I was growing up, space exploration seemed like a thing of the past – a relic of a more hopeful, more adventurous era. Raised on Star Trek reruns and the original Star Wars trilogy, I lumped NASA’s historic feats in with much more far-fetched fiction.

Sure, we live in an age when man has walked the moon, but it does not feel like it when I have to duct tape the dashboard of my car together to keep it from falling off its frame.

My earliest memories of current space exploration was the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. That was a tragedy that shook us to our core. And it made me wonder, if we have made it to the moon, why are we still going to space? What is the point of sending people up there?

The last straw for me was Pluto. When I was a kid, Pluto was a planet. It is not anymore, apparently. The last bit of space magic disappeared with the loss of my generation’s favorite planet and I gave up on space.

Last Sunday’s rocket launch made me reconsider my position.

SpaceX rockets are amazing because they successfully reground themselves after depositing their satellites. That kind of technology sounds more like the kind that could get us on and off planets, Star Trek style. Can you tell that I am already designing my own Starfleet?

Curious, I started looking into space achievements from the last two decades. In 2015, we grew lettuce in space. We have landed on Titan. We have sent a telescope on a search for other Earth-like planets. We got a sample from a comet, for Pete’s sake. The space industry is doing some pretty cool stuff these days!

My little sister and my nephew are both pretty into astronomy. My nephew is only four, so no one has put any career pressure on him yet, but my sister would make a good astronaut. She is in high school and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She talks about the stars like they are a dream she will never get to live, like space is a fiction for her.

But it is not.

SpaceX showed us that space is at our fingertips and dedicated humans are out there, trying to get a piece of the final frontier.

It has been a while since I was in school – save college classes – but I do not remember being encouraged to be an astronaut the way I was encouraged to be a nurse, a teacher, a fireman or a tradesman. Just like there are no longer boys growing up wishing to be cowboys, there are no longer children growing up wishing to be astronauts – at least, not with the same support of the mass media and commercial big wigs.

But I think they should be. Space exploration has given us the technology we use in everything from microwaves and cell phones to artificial limbs and scratch-resistant glasses.

Space still matters.

Watching that rocket glide across the sky, leaving behind a trail of ethereal white burn, I felt like I was living a fiction of my own become a stunning reality. It felt like 1969 and I was just another person, with my feet grounded on earth and my eyes on the heavens, looking at a door opening between our world and another, a future etched among the stars.

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