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The Royal Wedding and the Endeavour Space Shuttle Mission April 28, 2011

Posted by Alan Yu in Culture.
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April 29th, 2011 is shaping up to be a momentous day on both sides of the Atlantic.

In London, it’s the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

In Cape Canaveral, Florida, the last but one of the space shuttle missions, Endeavour, will take off at 3:47pm EDT.

There is no doubt, however, that the Royal Wedding is hogging all the media attention.

It’s easy to understand why.  William and Catherine are a couple made in heaven.  They have similar interests; they have spent time among a similar social circle, and they have been steady for some time.  Their marriage stands a good chance of surviving, unlike that of William’s parents.

Catherine is good-looking, intelligent, well-educated and has flair as opposed to mere glamour.  The Royal Wedding gives the UK welcome respite from depression in the worse economic belt-tightening since Charles and Diana tied the knot thirty years ago.

Besides, much as the monarchy can be an anachronism in an age of liberal values, members of the royal family have celebrity appeal by virtue of their elevated status, and it’s impossible for any other event on the day to compete with the pageantry of the wedding.

In short, William and Catherine’s wedding will fulfil the commoner’s yearning for fairytale dénouements.

By contrast, the Endeavour space shuttle mission is blasé.  There have been many such flights, although as the last but one mission before the programme shuts down, it has some peripheral historical significance.  Nor is it the first time the commander, Captain Mark Kelly, has been in space.

The story behind the Endeavour mission, on the other hand, is more touching.  Whereas the Royal Wedding is about coming together, the Endeavour mission is about separation.  Captain Kelly’s wife, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is recovering from severe brain injury after taking a bullet in an assassination attempt in January.  She is almost re-living her life all over again.  It was a wrenching decision for Kelly to carry on with his role in the Endeavour mission.

USA Today says of the couple: “This is a love story, which at its heart, is very grounded. A story of two driven but devoted people who love, respect and support each other — and in the process, are inspiring family, friends and strangers alike.”

All expectations are that the Endeavour mission will return safely to earth, but NASA has lost two shuttles and their crews in the past, Challenger and Columbia, so it’s not a foregone conclusion.  Giffords will be on hand at Cape Canaveral to witness the blast-off, probably praying.

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, who married Kelly and Giffords, is reported to have described the couple this way: “They both have a strength of person, a strength of character — the courage to be a leader, he in terms of space, and she, to step onto the floor of Congress.  People want to listen to them and go on the path with them.”

The Royal Wedding harks back to traditions and institutions dating back centuries; the Endeavour mission is forward looking in that it pushes the limit of human exploration into the outer world.  William and Catherine exude glamour; Kelly and Giffords draw from inner strength.  Two facets of human existence.  Both try to vindicate mistakes of the past.  Which of these two events will you be watching on April 29th?  Have you noticed that the space shuttle is spelled “Endeavour” rather than “Endeavor”?