To ponder the distant beginnings of the shuttle program is to concede what a different time it was. Sunny Ronald Reagan had just became president. Charlie’s Angels was still on television; the top song that summer was Kim Carnes’s Bette Davis Eyes. When the shuttle first went up, the personal computer revolution was just getting underway. Tandy and Apple were already out, but the most successful one, the IBM PC, was still months away from its debut.
The first shuttles were controlled by a computer running on only 500-kilobyte of RAM; it was upgrade to 1 MB only in 1991. During the past 3 decades the computer system performed flawlessly, and why replace something that has worked well? (More amazingly, since 1974, Soyuz ran on Argon-16 flight-computer software with just six kilobytes of RAM. In 2003, the Russians finally upgraded, and Soyuz disastrously crash-landed subsequently. So another reason not to replace.)
When the first shuttles went up, nothing captured the giddy sparefaring mood more than a new network that was launched later that summer. On August 1st, MTV was born with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” accompanied by portentous images from launch and landing of Apollo 11. Instead of American flag, MTV’s logo unfurled changing colors, textures and designs. For the 81ers, space was totally fresh, rad, and choice.
That summer, a new generation of America was born; a small part of that generation died with the final shuttle.
(See The National Geographic’s The Most Unforgettable Space Shuttle Pictures).