Tuesday, July 5, 2011

With Gratitude to the NASA STS

alternate version with Eliot quote

The first space shuttle, Columbia, was launched on April 12, 1981. I grew up to the countdowns and launches, the brilliant trail arches and spacewalks. I mourned for Challenger (posthumously, I was too young at the time) and Columbia. I watched as the shuttle made the International Space Station a reality. This was the ultimate in ingenuity, this was creativity, this was courage to tackle an open-ended dream with an ever-uncertain outcome.

It's a panorama I will remember forever; the bold white shuttle appointed in sun-lit black holds tight to a silo tank of rusted orange. Two missile-shaped boosters stand at the ready like military guards. The countdown begins and soon a flurry of sparks swirl under the engine bells. 4… 3… 2… 1… liftoff! Steam and smoke curl from below the massive machine like a rolling sea of whitecaps. The shuttle is airborne, stretching toward the heavens and chiseling history with each second.

From a design standpoint, the shuttle 'stack' (the external fuel tank, the two solid rocket boosters, and the orbiter itself) is iconic. It isn't terribly flashy in color, but the bleached ivory, charcoal black, metallic titanium, and umber paint a very familiar palette. Over the years the NASA badge has changed, but the font used on the shuttle has always been Helvetica. The U.S. flag flies proud on the side of the shuttle as well on the right wing. The shuttle is an example of how utilitarian design enters into our culture as a comfortable norm.

In season 4 of The X-Files, Fox Mulder gave his partner Dana Scully an Apollo 11 key chain for her birthday. In response, she said: "You never got to tell me why you gave it to me or what it means, but I think I know. I think that you appreciate that there are extraordinary men and women and extraordinary moments when history leaps forward on the backs of these individuals, that what can be imagined can be achieved, that you must dare to dream,  but that there's no substitute for perseverance and hard work and teamwork because no one gets there alone; and that, while we commemorate the… the greatness of these events and the individuals who achieve them, we cannot forget the sacrifice of those who make these achievements and leaps possible."

Great things have been achieved on the backs of these extraordinary individuals. From the ground crew to the commanders of the missions, these flights have been, each and every one, a testament to bravery and commitment. The people we lost along the way, the crews of Challenger and Columbia, will always be remembered for the courage to put themselves on the line for the advancement of man. The science and engineering are truly a nod to the greats before and will be an inspiration to the greats yet to come. Though the Space Transport System takes its final flight this year, the impact on all aspects of our lives will be eternal. I present this poster with gratitude to the NASA Space Transport System. Thank you for 30 breathtaking years; you will be missed. 

Dreams Aloft
original vector art, 11x17
© Rachael Sinclair, 2011

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