Last week, I attended a conference in The Big Easy – New Orleans. Collision Conference is always a grand experiment in mixing industries under one conference tent. Last year I focused on the marketing stage and attended a LOT of pitches. This year, I spent most of my time at the planet:tech stage, learning about the state of the industry in green/sustainability technology. It was very exciting! Of course I also met some really cool peeps on the Women In Tech pub crawl I attended, as well as on the convention floor.

On my way home, I had a 10 hour layover in Houston. For the first time in my life, I ventured past airport security in Texas and went to space! Space Center Houston, that is. My kid is already mad at me for going without him. Ha! Thing is, I wouldn’t have known how cool this place is if I hadn’t gone myself and now I will definitely make a point of going with him so that he can experience the magic. I have to – I promised!

My first stop at the Space Center was the blue tram tour – Historic Mission Control. OMG, I was SO EXCITED!! I sat in the first row during our introduction to mission control, right behind the Mission Director’s desk. I literally had tears in my eyes. Imagine the chutzpah this room has seen!

I wish we were still as enamored with space as we once were. Remember how we used to stop everything as a nation when a shuttle was launching? In schools, they’d wheel those big TVs into the classrooms – sometimes multiple classes would squeeze into one room to share a TV. At work, folks would go to the conference room to watch on the little TV hidden in the corner. People would stop in the street to watch on TVs in store windows (back when there were TVs in store windows!). This was before the days of the internet. Now the launches are live-streamed online! Which is cool, but…you lose out on a real sense of community this way. I prefer the old days when it was a group activity filled with awe and just a little trepidation.

On our way back from Mission Control, we stopped at Rocket Park to see the Saturn V rocket and a few others. That Saturn V is super impressive in person! At 120 yards tall (or long – it rests on its side so you can see the whole thing up close), it is longer than a football field. You can actually walk between two of the rocket segments, causing me to get all nerdy, checking out their cabling job (anyone who’s ever managed or worked in a data center knows what this entails). Unfortunately, my phone died before I could take any pics. I bought a postcard instead:

*This postcard is posted on my whiteboard at work. It inspires me.

There have been troubles along the road – the Apollo 13 mission failed to land on the moon as planned, but all three astronauts returned home safely. Sixteen years later, the astronauts on Space Shuttle Challenger did not even leave earth’s orbit successfully. It was heartbreaking to watch this play out in real time at school. It is the last time I can remember watching a launch live. Seventeen years later, a similar disaster occurred when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry, killing all 7 astronauts aboard.

Despite these (and other, less-fatal) setbacks, the space program hasn’t stopped working to explore space. In fact, NASA intends to put humans on Mars by 2030! I guess I haven’t been paying attention because I was blown away. I know that they’ve sent rovers and such, but I didn’t know the plan to put human feet on the ground so soon.

I barely had time to check out the new Mars exhibit, because I went into the space shuttle replica mounted on the original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft outside. So cool!

Throughout my visit to the Space Center, I couldn’t help but reflect on the ongoing bravery, perseverance, and hard work demonstrated by astronauts and the entire organization. I miss the days when our space travel was an active source of national pride. It gave us something positive around which to rally – not war, not enemies, not terror – but awe-inspiring courage and exploration of realms beyond this earth. It was inspirational and aspirational. Guys, we can do amazing things when we work together!