I am bummed. I don’t know about you, but I am disappointed. I got up early this morning to watch the final shuttle landing. It was on a few channels, but I settled on Fox for the last ten minutes of flight. It was commercial free.
I am a space baby. No, I wasn’t born in space; as far as I know, no one has. What I mean is that as long as I have been alive, the United States has been sending men into space and returning them to Earth safely, with only two accidents – Challenger and Columbia. This morning, it ended. I am sad.
I am old, according to my kids (and students); almost 50 and I have so many memories tucked away that come out of hiding at times like today. We moved to Texas in the early sixties and settled in Houston in 1965 (I think). I know David, my youngest brother, was born in Bay City, Texas in October ’64 and I can’t imagine mom would have let dad move us to Houston with a tiny baby, but I don’t know. I am sure I will get verification, later.
There was a lot of pride in the space program in the mid-sixties, especially growing up in Houston with the Space Center. I know there is an incredible amount of pride in the space program today, but it is different. There were far fewer entertainment options and the media covered each event as a national triumph, and it was. Today, the shuttle launches and lands and hardly anyone notices. There is a moment in the movie, Apollo 13, when the astronauts are going to be televised live as they approach the moon, and the networks do not show it. Later, after the accident, the attention of the nation, and world, focused on Apollo 13’s return and prayed for the crew’s safe return. We all know it returned safely and Tom Hanks, err Jim Lovell and his crew were heroes. There were three more Apollo missions before the moon program ended 1972.
I have been thinking about space quite a bit lately and I’ve dredged up a few memories.
Summer 1969. We had just moved to Venezuela and it was July. July 20th and I remember it being a Saturday night and we all stayed up to watch Neil Armstrong and Buss Aldrin land the lunar lander, The Eagle on the moon. Television reception in Venezuela was pretty spotty and we had a black and white TV. I was seven, not quite eight. The kids played and ran; it’s what kids do. The adults were glued to the TV. I have read, watched, and heard about that moment, but I don’t remember watching it, I just remember it was dark, we were up late, way later than my dad and mom ever let us, and we played. For me that was the giant leap, but I know when Neil Armstrong said, “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” he was referring to the accomplishments of the men and women of the space program.
Summer 1980. I remember the summer before college began, I was reading and reading and I came across Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. I can remember reading on the porch at home, hearing the crickets chirp, and being lost in the story of the infancy of America’s space program. I have the movie on DVD, but the book is far more powerful and the images painted by Wolfe are longer lasting.
April 1981. My first year in college, almost the end of my second semester, at Texas A&M and my company is pulling guard duty and the television is on in the guardroom. The first space shuttle is landing in California and the quad, the campus, the nation, and the world has come to a stop to watch Columbia glide to its first landing and complete its first mission. A great cheer rose up when it landed.
January 1986. I was working and I stepped out into the mall and someone said she heard there was an accident with the Space Shuttle. The world stopped at that time for a moment for me. I didn’t watch it live, but I have seen it over and over again since. I seem to remember speaking about the accident and one of the teachers I taught with mentioned she was watching it live in her classroom when she was a student. I remembered, again this year on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger accident.
February 2003. It was a normal morning and I was reading the paper and getting ready for Saturday. William was five and Olivia just a few months old. William had swim lessons and I was getting ready to go, when the phone rang. It was my mom calling to tell me there had been an accident with the shuttle, Columbia, and it had broken up in the atmosphere. I turned the TV to CNN and watched and listened. I took William to his swim lesson and I remember the flags at half-staff on the way home.
July 2011. I got up early this morning to watch space shuttle Endeavorland for the final time. I would have missed it entirely had I not seen a mention of the landing time on the Weather Channel last night. I could have slept in, I know I need the sleep, Ivy got up with me and was out in the yard when it landed. I was watching the commentary and I noticed the sprinklers had come on and Ivy was in a launch of her own. I rescued her and she sleeps curled up on her pad as I write. The video of the landing is below, if you missed it.
It has been busy here at the lake. I got a bad sunburn Tuesday swimming and boating with Olivia. William is day camping at a scout camp not far from here. Beth has been resting, relaxing, and enjoying time at the lake. I have been reading Mockingjay and I am close to the end. I now know why I would catch kids (mostly boys) reading in class when they should have been listening or working.
Today is day forty of summer with thirty left. How can that be? Regardless, I had better get going, moving, and make my day count. I need to jump up, jump in, and seize the day. Making the Days Count, one day at a time.
Can you remember a moment in the space program? What were you doing and where were you?