Left: Discovery shuttle STS-121
(Cape Canaveral, FL) After two weather delays and concerns about cracks in the vehicle's insulation foam, the space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven astronauts blasted off on the Fourth of July.
In a word, the liftoff was breathtaking.
NASA's administrators decided to continue with the launch of Discovery despite the objections of safety and engineering officials. The dissenters said that the shuttle's fuel tank needed additional repairs.
For the moment I sit in awe in front of my television set, marveling at the symbol of human endeavor that is a manned space launch.
Coming as it does on the celebration of American independence, Discovery's launch is also representative of the apex of American achievement and ingenuity, of what can happen when Americans work toward a common goal.
Critics decry the money spent on space exploration and the development of the International Space Station (ISS), which alone cost over $100 billion. Given the existing world problems of hunger, disease, and scarce resources, perhaps they are right.
But history will be the true judge of the merits of human space exploration, and I believe that this leap of technological faith is necessary for the advancement of the human species.
Any fireworks I view this evening on the shores of the Maumee River will seem run-of-the-mill after the spectacular launch of Discovery, and yet I will no doubt look to the heavens after the grand finale and gaze at the stars.
Like countless people before me, I will wonder what worlds lie just beyond our reach, and if I will live to see a day when we make contact with the inhabitants of another planet.
Happy Independence Day.