It's a proud day for all of us and NASA, as the shuttle Discovery is poised to fly again, years after the break-up of the Columbia on re-entry. This is, perhaps, the most high-tech piece of machinery ever built by mankind...
Except, come on. Look at the "high tech" involved in the liftoff:
Bolt catchers - They are baskets stuck to the side of the vehicle. That catch exploding bolts. Which attach the external tank. The bolts explode when it's time to jettison the tank.
Are there no other options? Clamps with hydraulic actuators, perhaps? A latch of some kind? Exploding bolts and baskets to catch 'em is all we could come up with?? Shoot, might as well use Krazy Glue.
Starter sparks - the way the tons of liquid fuel and solid fuel boosters are lit. They look like sparklers we use on Independence Day.
Yes, big sparklers. Is there no other way to light these things? Might as well get one of those big clicker buttons like we have on gas grills. "Stan, put some elbow grease on that button, dammit - it's time for liftoff!" Or maybe a Bic lighter, they work flawlessly every time.
Crap shooter - once the craft is aloft, they shoot the astronauts' poop out a hole in the side of the vehicle.
Space hockey. Intergallactic caca. Orbital excrement. Come on, even my grandparents' RV had a better procedure for evacuating feces. Although, at least the shuttle doesn't need an exhaust fan.
Oven tiles - Upon re-entry, the shuttle is protected from burning to a crisp... by big tiles. Glued to the bottom of the craft. GLUED. And these tiles are light, almost like styrofoam. Our astronauts will return to solid ground using technology only slightly more advanced than packing peanuts.
Basically, these brave people are riding atop a "controlled" explosion which propels them skyward, will spend 12 days with ALMOST all the comforts of a Winnebago, and get back to Earth using puffy tiles that simply outlast the intense friction of our (ironically) life-giving atmosphere.
And yet it's the top of the line, most advanced piece of machinery on (or off) Earth. It is the latest advance toward the future of human beings in space.
Our future is in the cosmos - if we're to exist as a species, we'll have to go "out there."
So, Godspeed to the astronauts. Let's light the fuse, step back and watch the magic.
Ride the light, guys!