Every Ending = New Beginning

In the mid-90’s, I recall a conversation with German Space Agency liaison, Gerhart Brauer — both a colleague and good friend to me. I struggled with a painful chapter in my life, and Gerhart offered this one simple phrase that made all the difference at the time. And even today.

Every ending is a new beginning.

Sometimes, though, this concept can be hard to accept. Personally and professionally. Take the end of our beloved Space Shuttle program, for example. Only three flights left. EVER!

Shuttle Stack

Shuttle Stack

My sister Aimee recently reminded me how she and Daddy watched Columbia lift off on April 12, 1981. She remembers him marveling that we could actually launch a rocket from Earth and fly it back to the planet like an airplane. The concept was so unbelievable at the time.

We take it for granted today.

I don’t recall the launch at all. But, I remember the STS-1 landing two days later. I worked at the University of Texas Ex-Students’ Association in Austin. We gathered around the conference table to watch Columbia land. I remember how cool it was to meet STS-1 John Young and Bob Crippin for the first time a few years later. They were the first humans to put their lives on the line and strap themselves onto the Shuttle stack for launch.

But then again, every astronaut who has ever flown on a rocket ship takes a leap of faith — each time we ignite the engines.

Yes, the fleet of amazing reusable winged vehicles served us well over the last three decades (with the exception of our tragic loss of the Challenger and Columbia crew and vehicles on two missions: STS-51-L and STS-107). We don’t relish mothballing the remaining three vehicles: Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour. But think about the exorbitant cost of upgrades. Cost alone makes the close-out decision for NASA managers so much easier than for those on the outside looking in.

Orbiter Cutaway

Orbiter Cutaway

Let’s face it, many of us are mourning the end of the program. And that’s ok. Grief is a reasonable human response. We love to watch our winged vehicles soar into the air, breaking gravity’s grasp on humanity. Those of us fortunate enough to witness a Shuttle launch live, love to feel the ground-shaking rumble and the roar of the engines. Some have even seen the night-sky turn to day as the vehicle propels to the heavens above.


STS-131 launch

STS-131 launch


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a Space Shuttle!!!

(Sorry Superman. We’ve got the real thing. You’re only fiction.)

So what happens next? What follows the Space Shuttle program? So many ask. Many are angry and confused. I don’t have the answers. Just know that NASA folks are furiously working to fill in the blanks. (We’ll fly on Soyuz spacecraft to Station in the meantime.) Beyond that, stay tuned. No comfort for thousands of workers who made house payments, put food on the table, and paid school expenses off Shuttle-related paychecks. I get it. My heart goes out to them. This post-Shuttle “new beginning” must feel like a black hole, where everything they know is disappearing into a powerful vortex outside their control. NASA has been planning this for years, but it doesn’t make the end of the program any easier.

We humans don’t like change, do we?

It’s uncomfortable. Messy, at times. We often prefer the certainty of misery over the misery of uncertainty. That’s why we stay in dead-end jobs or in joyless relationships. We’re funny like that. When change comes, we fight it, dig in our heels, complain to anyone who will listen. Does that sound at all familiar?

But with every new beginning, comes new hope for a better tomorrow.

If we can only let go of those things we cling tightly to, we might have two arms free to embrace this scary, unknown new thing — sometimes called a fresh start.

Here are a few ways to face change head on. Our Goal: Influence Change!

  1. Think creatively.
  2. Use the same tools in new ways.
  3. Find new tools to make old ways new.
  4. Look at a problem upside down and right side up.
  5. Deconstruct to reconstruct.
  6. Make change your own.
  7. Sculpt your world into something better than ever existed before.

Who knows, you might like tomorrow better than today! Really, it could happen. 😉




BTW: The next launch, STS-132, is scheduled for May 14. We’ll be having our second Shuttle Launch tweetup at the Kennedy Space Center and a mission tweetup at the Johnson Space Center. Stay-tuned for stories about the launch and space tweeps I meet there.

If you have stories to share about where you were and how you felt with the first Space Shuttle left Earth, feel free to post them as comments. I’d love to read them.

Crosspost on OpenNASA.com and GovLoop.com.


Filed under Earth, leadership, NASA, social media, space, tweet-up

13 responses to “Every Ending = New Beginning

  1. ccwharris

    I remember the STS-1 launch very well. I was 11 years old, at school here in Reading, England. It was a warm spring day, just like any other. Our teacher came in and told us we were all going over to the biggest classroom to watch something on TV. None of us knew what it was.

    They rolled out the TV, flicked it on and tuned in to the live event. That’s when we found out about the shuttle. Until that point I hadn’t even heard about it! We watched the launch and I was hooked, it was the most amazing machine I had ever seen.

    Since that day I had vowed I would see a launch, but living in England means it’s not a simple or cheap task. With the end nearing for the shuttle I was overjoyed to be offered a place at the STS-132 tweetup in May (although my bank balance might not forgive me) Finally one of my childhood dreams will come true.

    With regard to the future, who’s to say what will be developed in the next decade or two. All I can say is that I hope humans make it to the Moon or Mars in my lifetime. I was born in the middle of the Apollo Moon era, but I’m too young to remember any of it!

    • bethbeck

      I look forward to meeting you at the Tweetup. Your bank balance will forgive you for your investment in history! 🙂

  2. I was Gov. Jerry Brown’s advance man for the STS-1 trip. We watched the STS-1 launch from the VIP site (parking lots next to VAB). Standing next to me was James Michener. George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg were right behind me. A sense of history was abundantly clear to me at that moment.

    • bethbeck

      Great company, Keith! Wow. I was surrounded by Texas Exes in Longhorn country. But Bob Crippen is a UT grad, so it made it all the more special. I ended up working for Bob at NASA HQ. Really great guy.

  3. Pingback: Open NASA » Every Ending = New Beginning

    • Suzanne Kinnison

      I was a freshman at CU-Boulder (alma mater to 17 astronauts) and woke up friends in the wee hours of the morning to watch the shuttle launch (both the first attempt and the launch) on the one of the first big screen TVs on campus (the AFROTC detatchment.) We knew that it was a special moment in our lives. I relived that moment when I was able to see STS-95 launch in person. I’ll relive it again as I see each of the successive launches this year.

  4. I remember that first Space Shuttle launch very well – I was 12 years old, at Secondary School in the UK, struggling to mould a lifeless chunk of wood into something worthwhile in woodwork class. It wasn’t a class I enjoyed too much and I was feeling pretty downhearted that day. Our teacher popped his head in the door and mumbled something about, “a Space Shuttle being launched in a few minutes, if we wanted to watch it”. A few of us left the room to watch on the TV next door… What I saw that afternoon has stayed with me my whole life. We were watching history being made – our generation’s version of the historic moon landing. Suddenly all of the possibilities of life came to me, just what we could achieve on this planet with skill, dedication, courage and faith. NASA continually shows the human race at it’s best – it’s most imaginative, scientific, heroic hours. I feel privileged to be a part of the Shuttle era and look forward to more adventures to come. To all at NASA, thank you for helping us to see, to grow, to learn and ultimately, to dream.

    • bethbeck

      Wow Dave! What a cool story. I hope you turn it into a blogpost….or cartoon….or indie movie. Do you have pics from woodwork class? What fun to see your lifeless chunk of wood turn into a spaceship full of dreams. Love it!

  5. Hi Beth! No pics, I’m afraid…but one great memory 🙂

  6. Nice pic of the cutaway of the orbiter… My son has the same pic/poster in his room

  7. Pingback: When Old Hinders New | Bethbeck's Blog

  8. Hi Beth,
    Great post and great comments too. You’ve done a wonderful job of putting the end of the shuttle program in greater context. Do you have any comments on what you think is coming next?

    I’m “changing” careers to freelance writing and researching an article about the end of shuttle era. I’m looking for stories, comments, and anecdotes. Would you be willing to provide yours? Perhaps you know people who may be willing to provide theirs?

    • beth beck

      My personal opinion is that we’ll be flying Chinese rockets before too long. But that’s just me speculating on the change in political winds that we bring us into a partnership in the future.

      I’m wondering how hard it would be to human-rate the new secret Shuttle military space plane that we’ve seen glimpses of in the news. It’s SO next-gen Shuttle. I’d love to transform it for non-military use. Wouldn’t that be cool.

      I’m sure you’ll find many at NASA and at the NASA contracts who love to share their stories. If you’re on Twitter, you should tweet out a request for stories. I’ll bet you’d get lots of takers at our tweetups. Check out the NASA tweetup alumni facebook page for volunteers. I’m happy to share as well. 🙂

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