Paul Batura: America is a spacefaring nation again, as historic launch gives us a welcome dose of good news

Saturday’s successful launch of the first manned space flight from American soil since 2011 marked a triumphant and thrilling turning point in America’s remarkable history of space exploration.

The days of American astronauts hitching a ride out of this world on Russian rockets are over. America is once again a spacefaring nation operating under our own power, not dependent on any other country.

Like millions of others, I watched with excitement as NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were blasted into the heavens with explosive force, headed to the International Space Station.

SPACEX MAKES HISTORY, LAUNCHES NASA ASTRONAUTS INTO SPACE FROM US SOIL FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 2011

The launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was a welcome relief after the planned liftoff Wednesday had to be scrubbed with only minutes to go due to bad weather.

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Importantly, the launch proved that the partnership between NASA and private enterprise can work, marking a new chapter in space exploration. NASA has harnessed the mighty engine of our free enterprise system to drive space exploration in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

The launch also gave the American people a much-needed boost of hope and good news. We certainly need that at now.

Rioting has broken out in many cities following the death of an unarmed and handcuffed black man, George Floyd, after white police officer Derek Chauvin was captured on cellphone video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The space launch is something we can all celebrate after too much bad news.

And, of course, the coronavirus pandemic has tragically claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in our country, cratered our economy, and thrown millions of Americans out of work.

The space launch is something we can all celebrate after too much bad news.

Outer space has long been the source of great human fascination – long before Russia launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s historic first steps on the surface of the moon in 1969.

Those events took place before I was born, but I know from my parents and other relatives and friends who lived through the historic early days of space exploration and the race to the moon how those adventurous journeys captured the attention of billions of people around the world.

Humans have always looked skyward and wondered what lies beyond.

It was the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates who once observed: “Man must rise above Earth to the top of the atmosphere and beyond, for only then will he fully understand the world in which he lives.”

Thousands of years have passed since that statement, but the quest for answers and the curiosity of the unknown persists.

As he awaited the liftoff Wednesday that was scrubbed, SpaceX founder Elon Musk called the project the “culmination of a dream” that was 10 years in the making. With the launch Saturday,

he saw his dream turn into reality.

The controversial and quirky Musk suggested that if someone had asked him a decade ago how likely it was that he and the team would be able to pull the launch off now, he’d have given it no more than a 1 percent chance.

If you’ve lived long enough, every successful launch brings a sigh of relief. Your mind can’t help but wander back to the tragedies of Space Shuttles Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 that claimed the lives of a total of 14 astronauts. Fortunately, the three astronauts of the Apollo 13 survived a close call that could have resulted in their deaths.

We know the price of exploration can be fatal – which is why we rightly hold explorers up so high in our esteem. We cheer for them when they succeed because we know their victory ultimately benefits us all.

Reaching for the heavens reminds us, too, that there is life and wonder beyond what the eye can see.

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The late John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit Earth, told reporters: “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”

I’ve long believed that one of the keys to happiness is to keep reaching – even for things beyond my grasp. Goals provide structure and force us to focus – but they also provide us with the thrill of the pursuit, something that Musk has long championed.

“There have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live,” Musk reflected. “Why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future?”

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Let’s cheer on the astronauts heading toward the Space Station and allow their triumph to inspire us to work toward the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams.

Americans love longshots and underdogs, especially dreams that seem out of reach and out of this world. Maybe it’s because intuitively or even subconsciously, we know that if a person like Musk’s dream can come true, maybe someday, somehow ours might as well.

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