Having fired the imagination of a generation, a ship like no other, it’s place in history secured, the Space Shuttle pulls into port for the last time, it’s voyage at an end.” — Rob Navias, NASA Announcer

STS-135 Mission Patch

As the lyrics to the 1998 Semisonic song “Closing Time” remind us: “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. On July 21, 2011 what was once a new beginning in human space flight ended at 5:57 a.m when Space Shuttle Atlantis  (OV-104) landed at Kennedy Space Center following the completion of Mission STS-135, signaling the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. The mission, which began on Friday, July 8, 2011, delivered supplies to the International Space Station, lasted a total of 12 days, 18 hours, 28 minutes, 50 seconds. On board was a crew of four: Commander Chris Ferguson,  Pilot Doug Hurley, Mission Specialist Rex Walheim, and Mission Specialist Sandy Magnus.

Space Shuttle Mission STS-135: Final Approach As Seen Through Atlantis Pilot's Heads-Up Display (HUD)This was the final mission of the Space Shuttle Era which began on April 12, 1981 with the maiden voyage of Space Shuttle Columbia. Coincidentally this final shuttle mission coincided with another historical milestone:  the 42nd anniversary of the July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing. With the wonder of a child, I watched with rapt attention as the final moments of this 30-year adventure unfolded live online via NASA’s live video feed.

I’ve always been enthralled with aviation — my grandfather, Papa, flew a C-47 in World War II and my Dad privately flew various aircraft, including a Cessna 310. But the Space Shuttle was especially significant. The program began when I was in first grade and during my formative years served as an enduring symbol of education and exploration. The Shuttle captivated my imagination by symbolizing “intelligence in action.” It also exemplified achievement over seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

In the days before the Internet I watched on television as the Shuttle roared into the sky and then looked to the night sky as it streaked overhead like a shooting star. These were special times; moments that impressed upon me positive memories and feelings.

Years later, I shared a similar moment with my sons — Jacob (then 7) and Max (then 5) — when we watched “Hubble 3D” in IMAX at the California Science CenterWhen the movie featured a Shuttle launch sequence my younger son, Max, turned to me with awe and fascination in his eyes. Later in the film, my older son, Jacob, stared excitedly at the screen and asked me how many stars there were in space!

NASA Astronaut Leroy Chiao, Ph.D.I felt especially connected to the Space Shuttle when, in 1990, Leroy Chiao, Ph.D.,  who grew up in Danville, California as did I was selected as a NASA Astronaut. He also earned a Master of Science and then a Doctor of Philosophy in chemical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara — the school that would later become my undergraduate alma mater. When Dr. Chiao was selected, I was the editor of my high school newspaper, The San Ramon Valley High School “Wolf Print.”

I was invited to meet Dr. Chiao with other high school newspaper editors at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he was working at the time. He spoke about the Shuttle program and what he anticipated would be his role. Notably, Dr. Chiao flew as a mission specialist on STS-65 (1994), STS-72 (1996), and STS-92 (2000). Dr. Chiao had logged more than 36 days, 12.5 hours in space, including more than 26 EVA hours in four space walks. He was also the Commander of Expedition 10 on the International Space Station (2004-2005). Dr. Chiao left NASA in December 2005.

In April 2003, I attended my first academic conference — the International Academy of Business Disciplines (IABD) — in Orlando, Florida.  I leveraged my proximity to the Kennedy Space Center and drove my rented Ford Mustang from Orlando to the historic spaceport. Space Shuttle PatchWhen I arrived too late to take a tour of the facility, I explored what I could by myself. I also watched a 1985 IMAX movie I had seen years before at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum called “The Dream is Alive.”

I also bought some items for my sons, including an orange Astronaut jumpsuit both of my sons enthusiastically wore for a Halloween. Although my visit was brief, being in that historic place was a powerful experience for me.

On November 30, 2008 I was captivated when Space Shuttle Endeavour was diverted to the backup landing option at Edwards Air Force Base  on its journey home from mission STS-126 due to inclement weather in Florida. I was fortunate to have been able to record the double sonic booms as it passed over Santa Clarita and wrote a blog post featuring an MP3 file of the distinctive sound.

Despite the many incomparable moments of inspiration, however, there were also times of great heartache.

Despite these tragic times, the Space Shuttle will always be my generation’s inspiration — our Apollo program, our crowning achievement, our wildest dreams realized. The image of that magnificent machine launching like a rocket, orbiting Earth, and then returning  as a powerless glider, will forever inspire and excite me.

It saddens me that the Shuttle was discontinued without a replacement ready to go. Now, for the first time in 50 years, the United States will have no launch vehicle. Until a new one can be built, American astronauts will be ferried to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.  Commercial space vehicles will also begin operation in the near future.

NASA is planning to build a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for deep space exploration which is based on the Orion capsule, which was initially developed for cancelled moon-bound trips under the Constellation program. The chances of this coming to fruition in less than five years seems slim.

Until NASA initiates a new program, I will celebrate the fact that Space Shuttle Endeavour being on permanent display at the California Science Center. I am thankful to NASA for 30 years of awe-inspiring adventure and exploration. And, lastly, I will forever remain inspired by the many Astronauts — from the Space Shuttle and prior vehicles — who  “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

Space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) touches down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), completing its 13-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program, early Thursday morning, July 21, 2011, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Overall, Atlantis spent 307 days in space and traveled nearly 126 million miles during its 33 flights. Atlantis, the fourth orbiter built, launched on its first mission on Oct. 3, 1985. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Have you declared your independence from indifference?liberty-bell-656871_640

Today, as Americans celebrate the ratification of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, many of us repeat the following passage:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thinking about the “pursuit of Happiness,” I find myself wondering if indifference prevents people from experiencing the happiness of  their life’s purpose? This leads me to ask questions like:

  • How many of us truly pursue that which makes us happy?
  • How many of us have a longing for something greater?
  • How many of us envision a path we have not pursued?
  • If obstacles were removed would we pursue our dreams?
  • Do we limit ourselves with fear and excuses?

Like the character Neo in The Matrix, there are times when we sense something is not right, but we choose the blue pill because we fear the reality of the red pill. Fortunately Neo embraced the unknown, but not everyone makes the same choice.

In his inspiring TED talk, Why we do what we do, Tony Robbins argues that, despite tremendous obstacles, we all possess the power to realize our dreams. Robbins explains that we fail to achieve our dreams not because we lack resources, but because we lack resourcefulness — the emotional ingenuity to achieve our dreams:

Consider the seemingly insurmountable odds America faced when it declared its independence from England.  The odds of success were minuscule, but those odds discounted how driven to dream the colonists were. But they weren’t naive either; instead the colonists embraced the philosophy that would later be defined by Jim Collins as the Stockdale Paradox:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties – and at the same time – confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

Certainly, we all face limitations, but I encourage you to look to what is, rather than what is not. The past two years have been challenging and rewarding to me personally and professionally, but I continue working on moving forward rather than back.

Reinforcing this philosophy, Fortune Cookie: Discover the Power within YourselfI recently received a fortune cookie that read “Discover the Power Within Yourself.” As trite as this message sounds, it inspired me. Taking those words to heart I continually re-frame my situation to see it realistically while retaining faith I will prevail in the end.

So, whenever you find yourself encountering adversity, I encourage you to declare your independence from indifference and discover the power within yourself to achieve what you dream!